Care During Chemotherapy and Beyond
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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 throughout 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 treatment is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute
for medical advice.
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