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Care During Chemotherapy and Beyond

Heart Problems



COMMON HEART TESTS

The following are common heart tests or examinations that your healthcare provider may perform on you:

  • Auscultation is a heart test performed by using a stethoscope. The stethoscope will amplify sounds heard in the area that is being listened to. If there is an abnormal finding on your test, further heart tests may be suggested.
  • The neck: When your doctor or healthcare provider is listening to your neck, they are often listening for a "swishing" sound in your arteries. This may suggest that there is a narrowing of the arteries, which would increase the sound of blood flow.
  • The heart: Normally, your heart produces a "lub-dub" sound, when the heart valves are opening and closing during the flow of blood. Your healthcare provider will listen to see if your heart is beating regularly, or if there are any murmurs (extra sounds with every heart beat). Heart murmurs may be "innocent" meaning they are normal, and non-life threatening, or they may signify a problem may be present. To diagnose this, your healthcare provider may listen with their stethoscope to many areas around the heart, instead of just one area, and suggest further heart tests, if necessary.
  • Angiography - This heart test is an invasive procedure when a thin tube is inserted into a large vein, either in the arm or leg, to determine you internal blood pressure at certain areas of your heart. A dye is also injected into your heart, so that the cardiologist may test how well the blood is pumping through out your heart, and if there is any blockage in your arteries.
  • Chest x-ray: This heart test is a quick and painless procedure where a picture, or an x-ray, will be taken to look at your internal structures of your chest. The chest x-ray will look at your lungs, heart, and ribs.
    • This one-dimensional view may provide your healthcare provider with important information about what is happening inside your chest wall.
    • Chest x-rays may be done routine, if your healthcare provider wants to "watch" a certain finding, or if you have symptoms, such as cough or chest pain.
    • If your healthcare provider or doctor thinks there may be a suspicious finding, they may recommend a more accurate test, such as a cat scan, or MRI, depending on what the findings may be.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG) is a simple, and painless test that can indicate to your healthcare provider if you have any heart problems, or if you have a history of any heart problems.
    • The ECG works by recording electrical activity in your heart. Electrical impulses travel through the heart, causing the heart to contract (squeeze). Through placing electrodes on the surface of your chest, upper abdomen, or back area, the electrical impulses can be recorded by the ECG machine. The specific pattern of the electrical impulses may show many things, including the electrical activity of the heart.
    • ECG monitoring is often done in your doctor or healthcare provider's office. These heart tests are helpful in managing your disease, by showing: 
      •  If you have any evidence of coronary artery disease.
      • Decreased blood flow to certain areas in the body
      • If there are chemical or electrolyte imbalances in the body (high or low blood potassium levels, for example)
      • If you have had heart damage in the past, or if you are currently experiencing heart damage
      • If your heart is enlarged
      • If your heart is beating regularly. Irregular rhythms may indicate an underlying problem or disorder.
  • Echocardiogram:  An echocardiogram (sometimes called an ECHO) is a heart test procedure that uses a probe (called a transducer) to send high frequency sound waves into your chest. These sound waves bounce (or, echo) off of your heart. A computer uses the "echo" sound waves to create a moving picture of your heart. This procedure is painless.
    • If you are scheduled to receive a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE), you may have a very small, thin tube passed down into your throat. The transducer is on the end of the tube, instead of on the outside of your chest wall.
    • You may have this heart test done to examine your LVEF (Left Ventricular Ejection Fraction), before during or after chemotherapy. This will tell your doctor or healthcare provider the percentage of blood being pumped out into the body, during each heartbeat.
      • An EF of 50%-75% is considered normal.
      • The lower the ejection fraction, the more severe the heart failure may be.
      • If there is a decrease in your LVEF, and you are receiving chemotherapy drugs that can damage your heart, your doctor may change the way he or she manages your disease.
    • The echo will also tell your healthcare provider if you have any history of heart problems, including heart attacks, infections, rheumatic fever, or tumors.
    • The heart test usually takes about 30 minutes.
    • The ECHO can be a valuable tool to your healthcare provider, as it may guide their medical management.
  • Radionuclide ventriculography:  Radionuclide ventriculography is similar to an ECHO, as it determines how well your heart is functioning. It uses a safe, radioactive substance that has been injected into your blood stream. This heart test allows your doctor or healthcare provider to see how well your heart is working at pumping blood through out your body. 
    • This heart test is very sensitive to determine the presence of any heart enlargement, or if there is any fluid accumulating in the lungs. It may be used in addition to angiography, if recommended by your healthcare provider.

Note:  We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and which of the heart tests might be right for you. The information contained in this website about heart tests and other forms of medical treatement is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice.