ECG records the inherent electrical activity of the heart. It is used to identify your heart rate as well as to diagnose conduction abnormalities, myocardial ischaemia (heart attacks and angina) and in some cases structural defects. At times changes may be transient and hence comparison with previous ECGs is always valuable, or there is sometimes a need to repeat ECG recordgins.
ECG can be used in the diagnosis of underlying causes of heart disease such as coronary artery disease or arrhythmias. Changes in the ST segment can identify ischaemia (angina, heart attack risk) or infarction (actual heart attacks). Patients with hypertension may find large voltage QRS complexes, downward sloping ST segments and T wave suggesting hypertensive changes to their hear. Conduction abnormalities including atrial arrhythmias, heart block and intraventricular septal conduction delays can indicate a possible diagnosis of heart failure or other causes of cardiac remodelling or infiltrative diseases.
Echocardiogram refers to the production of cardiac imaging using ultrasound imaging techniques. Ultrasound is the same imaging modality to image babies in the womb. It is a non-invasive imaging technique which is completely safe, with risk of radiation exposure. Ultrasound images can be obtained by a probe applied to the chest called a transthoracic echocardiogram or TTE. Ultrasound probes can also be used endoscopically to look at the heart closer in certain conditions. This is called a transoesophageal echo or TOE.
Echocardiography provides a wealth of information on almost every modality of cardiac function. It is used to define sizes of heart chamber, abnormalities of the motion of the cardiac wall suggesting ischaemia cardiac cause for angina, the pumping function or heart failure, presence of clots, blood flow dynamics within the heart, valvular function including thickened valves and leaking valves, the lining of the heart, structures around the heart including the great vessels, lung pressures, dyssynchronous cardiac function, and cardiac tumours.
The cardiac stress test is a way in which ‘stress’ can be simulated in the heart, using either exercise, or in some cases medications, to enhance the heart rate, blood pressure, and cardiac contractility. ECG leads are attached to the skin surface for simultaneous monitoring of the heart beat and the electrical responses of the heart muscle to stress. The blood pressure measurements are done simultaneously as every few minutes the speed and incline increases.
The variations in the morphology of the ECG and heart rate can give valuable information in regards to the risk of heart attacks, electrical abnormalities, blood pressure response to exercise, heart rate responsivity and workload assessment.
This type of information in used in work place screening assessments, drivers licence screening tests and insurance medicals.
Adding echocardiography to stress testing increases the accuracy of evaluation for heart attack risk substantially, particularly in women, patients with underlying ECG changes, and patients who have had prior cardiac events or surgical intervention.
The addition of the echocardiogram in stress testing also allows you to specify the location of the blocked artery/arteries at risk of causing a heart attack, as well as looking for problems with cardiac muscle contractile reserve, problems with the relaxation phase (diastolic dysfunction), outflow problems seen in patients with cardiomyopathy (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy/HOCM) and measure the pressures in the lung during exercise.
Cardiac CT uses CT technology, a radiologically based investigation technique, to provide detailed images of the heart and most importantly of the arteries which supply the heart. In combination with calcium scoring it can be a valuable tool to determine medical therapy, need for medications such as statin therapy, and defining cardiac and how often you should be monitored and managed to prevent heart disease or detect it early if it happens.
Cardiologists are able to order a CTCA in patients who are deemed at risk and in doing so the patient would be eligible for a rebate from Medicare.