Do you ever experience shortness of breath or chest discomfort when active, yet it goes away when you rest? These symptoms may indicate cardiovascular disease, and I’d like to explain what happens when you take that first step and tell your doctor.
While anyone with consistent chest discomfort should call 911 for immediate emergency care, anyone with subtle symptoms of chest discomfort, or shortness of breath should definitely report it to their doctor.
One of the first tests your doctor may perform is an EKG, or electrocardiogram. This simple test can be done in the office. It records the electrical activity of the heart, providing information that can help detect a heart attack, abnormal blood flow or abnormal heart rhythms.
Depending on your symptoms and EKG results, a stress test may be performed. A stress test uses either exercise by walking on a treadmill or a chemical injection to stress the heart.
In some cases, an echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart, is done in conjunction with a stress test. This is done before and after exercise, to study the heart’s function and wall motion.
Another possible test is a nuclear stress test. This involves injection of a nuclear isotope into a vein before and after stress, and a scanner similar to an X-ray will take two sets of pictures, one resting and the other after stress. In this way, physicians compare blood flow to see if there are discrepancies that would indicate a narrowing or blockage in an artery that feeds oxygen to the heart.
At this point, if all indications suggest a blockage or narrowing of an artery, then a more invasive test — a heart catheterization — may be required. This involves the insertion of a catheter into a blood vessel in the groin or wrist which is passed up to the heart. Along with the use of a contrasting dye in the vessel, the cardiologist can see the specific location of blockages and treat them.
To open a dangerous blockage, an angioplasty can be performed,…