If your doctor suspects a problem with a valve in your heart, he or she may order tests to determine if your heart is working as it should. The following diagnostic tests are among those used to detect heart valve disease:
An echocardiogram, or cardiac ultrasound, is a non-invasive test that shows how well your heart is pumping blood, the size and shape of your heart valves and chambers, and if a valve has become narrowed or is allowing blood to flow or leak backward.
Trans-esophageal Echocardiogram (TEE)
To get a better image of your heart, your doctor may recommend a TEE. Medications are given through the IV to put you to sleep as a sound wave wand, positioned on the end of a thin tube, is passed down your throat into your esophagus. The heart structures are then viewed through the thin wall of the esophagus. This is not a painful procedure because you are asleep during the test.
A chest x-ray can show enlarged sections of your heart, fluid in your lungs, and calcium deposits in your heart.
A stress test shows if you have symptoms of heart valve disease when your heart is working hard and it helps your doctor assess how severe your disease might be. Stress tests involve either exercising or taking medication to make your heart beat fast while images are taken of it.
Your doctor may recommend cardiac catheterization if he or she continues to have questions after seeing your echocardiogram results. Cardiac catheterization can help assess if your symptoms are due to a valve problem or if they relate to a blockage in your artery. Ultimately, the catheterization provides detailed information that enables your doctor to develop the best plan for treating your condition.
Computerized Tomographic Angiography (CTA)
CTA uses x-rays and computers to create detailed images of the blood vessels and the blood flow within them. CTA can be performed to evaluate many of the body’s arterial systems, such as the heart, the brain, or the blood vessels coursing through the chest, abdomen and pelvis.
Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Cardiac MRI is a non-invasive medical test that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce two- or three-dimensional images of blood vessels. These images provide doctors a more precise assessment of the severity and location of any blockages in the arteries.
Why Continous Testing Is Needed with Heart Valve Problems
Heart valve disease is often changes over time. Even when a heart valve condition was previously stable, it can progress quickly with serious consequences.
Your doctor can monitor the condition of your valves in various ways.
During a detailed physical examination, your doctor will listen for changes in heart murmurs, extra heart sounds such as gallops, or quality of your pulses.
A series of electrocardiograms (EKGs) can detect changes in heart rhythm, heart chamber size and excessive chamber thickening.
A chest x-ray can be helpful in assessing heart enlargement and the condition of the lungs.
For a detailed look at valve function and assessment of narrowing (stenosis) or leakage (regurgitation or insufficiency), echocardiograms can be performed to compare the condition of the heart valve from previous evaluations.
Since symptoms related to valve problems can be slow to develop and notice, your doctor may recommend an exercise stress test as an objective test to compare how well your body is able to deal with a valve problem.
An even more sophisticated test is a cardiac CT (computed tomography) or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan, which can give very detailed measurements and assessment of heart and valve function.
Sometimes it is very important to know the exact pressures in the heart chambers or lung vessels. The most accurate way to do this is through a cardiac catheterization.
Check with your doctor to find out how often you should have additional testing to monitor your heart valve problems.