Heart scans

A CT scan can take detailed images of your heart

A CT scan can take detailed images of your heart

Echocardiogram

Also referred to as an 'echo' this is an ultrasound heart scan. Firstly, a special jelly is applied to your chest. An operator then lays a probe on the chest and moves it around, on the jelly, to get different views.

Sound waves bounce information about the structure of the heart back to a computer to make a picture of the heart. This tells the doctor about:

  • The size of your heart
  • How well your heart muscle is working
  • How well your heart valves are working

Other kinds of echocardiograms:

  • Doppler echocardiogram: used to study the speed and direction of blood flow within your heart. It is particularly useful in assessing leakage and narrowing of your heart valves, and for assessing any holes between two chambers of your heart.
  • Trans-oesophageal echocardiogram (sometimes known as TOE or TEE): used to examine your heart from the oesophagus (gullet), which lies behind the heart, giving a different view than from the front. It is used when the doctor needs more specialised, detailed information, e.g. about valves or infection. A small ultrasound probe, attached to a wire, is swallowed following light sedation and local anaesthetic spray to the back of your throat. This probe is gently pulled back up again after the test.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

  • This scan uses a magnetic field to produce detailed images of your heart and blood vessels. It is very helpful in getting information about your heart for those who cannot have an exercise ECG or if this test has been inconclusive.
  • An MRI usually involves lying down, on a couch, inside a large metal cylinder. The couch then moves backwards and forwards through the cylinder and images of your body are taken. You can listen to music during the scan and you will be able to hear the radiographer (the person who operates the machine) talk to you.

Cardiac computed tomography (Cardiac CT)

  • Cardiac CT also uses a special x-ray machine, which moves around your body, to take detailed pictures of your heart. The pictures taken can help detect heart problems.

Thallium scan (Myocardial perfusion scintigraphy)

  • This scan shows how well blood is reaching the heart muscle through your coronary arteries.
  • A small amount of thallium (radioactive substance) is injected into a vein and a special camera moves around your body. The camera picks up traces of thallium and produces pictures. As thallium will not travel well to areas where there is a poor blood supply the pictures can be used to see how well blood is reaching your heart.
  • The scan can compare how well the thallium is taken up by your heart muscle when it is made to work harder, i.e. in the form of an exercise test or by an injection of a stimulant drug. It is a useful scan when exercise tests cannot be done or when specific information on your heart muscle is needed which a treadmill exercise test cannot provide. The levels of radiation used are not harmful.
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