Heart health: Investigating the heart
The heart is a hollow, cone-shaped muscle located between the lungs and behind the breastbone. The heart is divided into four chambers: the right atrium, the left atrium, the right ventricle and the left ventricle.
Each of these chambers has a one-way valve at its exit. When each chamber contracts, blood pushes the valve open and flows through to the next chamber. Once the chamber has finished emptying, the valve closes, preventing the blood from flowing backwards. The valves are like the plumbing of the heart.
Contraction of the four chambers is controlled by the heart’s electrical system, which initiates contractions or beats of the heart muscle. In a healthy heart, the electrical conduction system produces a carefully coordinated contraction that lets the heart function effectively as a pump and push blood around the body.
When we’re testing the heart, we’re really looking at the plumbing and the electricals!
Common initial tests
A stress echo is an exercise ECG test combined with some ultrasound pictures, which compares how your heart muscle is pumping before and after exercise. It evaluates the function of the heart, and looks for blocked coronary arteries which can cause a heart attack.
An echocardiogram is a thorough resting ultrasound used to look at how the heart is functioning, and lets us see the anatomy, structure and function of all four chambers and the valves of the heart.
An ECG measures and records the electrical activity of your heart, and detects heart abnormalities by measuring the electrical activity generated by the heart as it contracts.
Common follow-up tests
Coronary calcium scoring is a test that detects and measures the amount of calcium in your coronary arteries, and can help tell if coronary artery disease is present.
An EPS is a low-risk procedure that makes it possible to study your abnormal heart rhythm under controlled conditions and diagnose a particular problem.
A holter monitor is a small, wearable device that continuously records your heart’s rhythms, and is worn for at least 24 hours during normal daily activity.
An ambulatory blood pressure monitor is a small device, which is used to regularly measure and record your blood pressure over a 24-hour period.