Diagnosing your heart health

Published 11:50 am Saturday, July 28, 2012

by Dr. Morton E. Kalus Jr.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of one in four people annually.

Advanced diagnostic and intervention techniques now allow doctors to gather information about heart problems — whether you’re in the emergency room experiencing heart attack symptoms, or just concerned about your risk of a heart attack.

These procedures diagnose heart trouble, and relieve pain and resolve heart problems early to avoid a more serious heart episode and major surgery down the road.

Diagnostic tests fall into two categories — non-invasive, and invasive. Non-invasive tests utilize imaging, such as radiation or ultrasound, which takes a picture of the heart.

Invasive tests might use a catheter inserted inside the body through an artery or vein to pinpoint the source of heart trouble.


* Echocardiograms/electrocardiograms—An echocardiogram uses ultrasound to view the heart’s structure and function, while an electrocardiogram uses electrodes applied to the body that are connected to a machine that records the heart’s electrical activity.

* CT coronary angiogram—This newer heart-imaging test provides information about the heart previously only available using more invasive testing methods. It can help detect blockages, such as deposits of fat or plaque that have narrowed the coronary arteries and cause coronary artery disease.

Coronary CTA is a special type of X-ray exam. Patients undergoing a coronary CTA scan receive an IV injection of iodine-containing contrast material (dye) to help provide the best possible detail of the areas being examined. It provides imaging previously only available using more invasive testing methods.


* Cardiac catheterization—This widely used, minimally invasive procedure provides a look at the inside of the heart and surrounding structures. A catheter is inserted into an artery or vein in the arm or groin, and threaded into the heart’s arteries or chambers.

Your doctor is then able to measure blood pressure in the heart, the heart’s pumping capability and the amount of oxygen in the blood. Patients are usually awake during the procedure, feel little or no pain; however, there may be some residual soreness in the blood vessel where the catheter was inserted.

Cardiac catheterization is not only a diagnostic method, but in many cases, the first step of an interventional procedure that can help minimize or stop a heart attack. Once the catheter is in place, it can be used to perform interventional procedures such as angioplasty or stent implantation.

* Percutaneous Intervention—This catheter-based procedure is used to restore blood flow to the heart. A catheter with a balloon at its tip is threaded through a blood vessel to the narrowed artery.

Once in place, the balloon is inflated to expand the narrowed artery and compress built-up plaque against the artery wall; this opens the area and restores blood flow.

Angioplasty is frequently used to relieve symptoms of coronary artery disease, such as chest pain (angina), and it can reduce heart muscle damage when performed early during a heart attack. Sometimes the cardiologist will place a stent inside the artery that has been opened with a balloon to help the artery remain open.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, check with your physician about taking an aspirin tablet and immediately get to your closest emergency room. Also, talk with your doctor about your family history and individual risk level.

Your doctor can recommend routine tests and lifestyle changes to help manage your heart health.

Learn more about the cardiac care services at Southampton Memorial Hospital at www.smhfranklin.com. You can also test your heart knowledge by clicking on ‘Health Resources’ and ‘Interactive Tools’ to take a Coronary Artery Disease risk assessment, or a quiz on Heart Disease Risk, Heart Disease Prevention, or Heart Health.


If you think you’re having a heart attack, don’t wait — go to the nearest emergency room immediately. Be sure you know the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

* Chest discomfort, such as uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain

* Pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach

* Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort

* Cold sweat

* Nausea or vomiting

* Weakness, lightheadedness or dizziness

Recent research has shown that women may experience different heart attack symptoms, instead of, or in addition to the better-known heart attack symptoms. These may include:

* Unusual fatigue

* Indigestion

* Sleep disturbances

* Anxiety or a feeling of impending doom

* Back or jaw pain

DR. MORTON E. KALUS JR. is the principal practitioner at The Heart Center at Southampton, he can be reached at 569-7518.