Undergoing a routine checkup with a health care provider or a cardiologist can help reveal ailments in the cardiovascular system, if any. The heart is a very sensitive organ, which supplies blood through the arteries to every part of the body. This vital organ in the body may suffer from a number of disorders owing to unhealthy lifestyle practices, improper nutrition and some illnesses.
One such disorder is arterial blockage, which may arise due to the presence of plaque, fat or calcium deposits and also sometimes blood clots. Failure to diagnose this clogging can be life-threatening. But how is this condition detected? With the help of some tests, the information for which, along with the symptoms and treatment options, is given as under.
Tests to Detect Heart Blockage
Diagnostic tests are carried out to determine the intensity of the clogging in the arteries, which can hamper proper blood flow from the heart to other organs. Here are some of the tests for diagnosing blockage, which help in the evaluation of the heart's condition. Undergoing these tests will help detect and deter the impending signs of a heart attack.
Chest X-ray and CT scan
One of the first heart tests for blockage is an X-ray of the chest region, along with a physical exam. During the X-ray, some of the symptoms of arterial blockage in the heart may be revealed. A CT (computerized tomography) scan is also taken, for closer observation of the blockage in the arteries. The extent of damage can also be diagnosed with the help of an MRI or CT scan of the heart. The images taken during the scan are displayed on a monitor connected to the machine.
Exercise Stress Test or Treadmill Test
This test is conducted to observe the heart's response to exertion. Heart blockage may exhibit minimal signs when the body is at rest. Only when a task, or while exercising is being carried out, does the heart show symptoms that something is wrong. For this test, the person is made to do some mild exercises like pedaling on a stationary bike, or walk on the treadmill. A few connectors from the ECG machine are attached to the individual's chest and any changes in the heart or blood vessels are immediately noticed on the monitor.
ECG, also referred to as electrocardiogram is another vital test to identify blocked arteries. For this test electrodes are attached to the skin on the chest, directly above the heart. The impulses (or electric waves) sent by the heart are recorded and displayed on the monitor. An ECG is helpful in monitoring the rhythm of the heart and also revealing the history of previous heart attacks, problems in heart muscles and reduced oxygen supply. Any palpitations in the heart will get recorded through ECG. This is because heart blocks too follow a certain pattern. Abnormal heart rhythms, myocardial infarction or an enlarged heart fit these patterns and the pulses generated will help in identifying the blockage in heart.
An echocardiogram is a diagnostic test, which employs ultrasound equipment for the examination of the heart and blood vessels. After the electrodes are attached to the skin, sound waves, with the help of a transducer, are directed towards the heart. The sound waves sent back by the heart are displayed as images. The problem area can be identified after studying the video images.
Another heart blockage test, known as Electrophysiologic study, also checks for the electrical conduction system of the heart. It investigates the cause and location of abnormal heart rhythms and helps in proceeding with the right diagnosis and treatment. In this test, multiple catheters are inserted within the heart via a vein or an artery and the test is always performed by an electrophysiologist. Holter Monitor is also another effective test which records the heart rate. Heart patients are advised to wear this device in the speculated time. In some cases, patients are also advised for a nuclear stress test preparation to assess the heart's condition.
In the coronary angiography test, a dye is injected into the coronary arteries with the help of a catheter, which is a long and thin tube. The dye flows through the tube into the arteries, filling them. An X-ray is also attached to this medical equipment, which reveals the condition of the arteries on the screen. Any blockage in the artery will become apparent on the X-ray.
Isotope Stress Test
Also known as a nuclear scan, in this test to identify arterial blockage, a less radioactive material is introduced into the bloodstream. The individual may be told to walk on the treadmill, attached to the ECH with electrodes. The activity may increase the blood flow and along with it, the substance may also flow through the blood vessels. The areas where there is insufficient blood circulation, may be seen as opaque images on the screen.
Other tests that make this job a lot easier are Invasive Electrophysiologic testing (a type of cardiac catheterization) and Implantable Loop Recorder assist in diagnosing elusive heart conditions like bradyarrhythmia, that may not have been detected by traditional means.The above heart blockage diagnostic tests help in assessing the seriousness of the heart blockage symptoms which may vary from mild to severe. The symptoms further depend on the intensity of the conduction disturbance of the electrical pulses within the heart. In patients, where the heart blocks are intermittent, the signs may be extremely misleading and ambiguous, making diagnosis difficult.
Heart Blockage Symptoms
A heart blockage may not get noticed until it develops into a heart attack, be it mild or severe. With diminishing levels of oxygen in blood, the heart tissue dies a slow death. The symptoms of heart blockage may be indicative that there is malfunctioning in the organ. The early warning signs of heart blockage show up with a searing chest pain at intermittent durations.
Reading these signs may help the cardiologist, locate the exact region where the clogging may have occurred and provide necessary treatment.
- Stabbing chest pain starting from left arm to wrist
- Tightness in chest
- Pain felt in the shoulder blades
- Excessive sweating
- Irregular heartbeats or palpitations
- Heart murmurs accompanied by chest discomfort
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty in breathing
- Feeling lightheaded
- Episodes of blackout
- Dizziness or fainting spells
There are also other causes of heart blockage, other than coronary heart disease. These should be identified and treated on time, to prevent this disorder from leading to fatality.
- Bundle Branch Block (Obstruction in the electric pulses that cause heart rhythm)
- Congenital Heart Block (A structural defect in the cells of the heart by birth)
- Atherosclerosis (Accumulation of macrophage white blood cells, promoted by low density lipoproteins)
- Drugs (like amiodarone, quinidine, flecainide, and procainamide)
Heart Blockage Treatment
Suffering from heart blockage can prove detrimental to the health of an individual. Administering prompt treatment will prove beneficial in unblocking the arteries and restoring blood circulation. Once all the diagnostic heart tests for blockage have been conducted, treatment may be administered. The cardiologist may aim towards unblocking the arteries with the help of medications like anticoagulants and thrombolytics. Angioplasty, combined with the insertion of stents, help in widening the arteries and remove the blockage. Surgery may also be an option, in case there is permanent damage in the arteries, that may have to be replaced.
Heart blockage is quite a dicey medical condition as the causes are many and the symptoms are ambiguous and elusive. One never knows, how a mild chest pain can culminate into an excruciating heart attack without any significant symptoms. Remember, tests to identify heart blockage at the right time can prevent the occurrence of any heart disease and also save the life of a person.
A healthy lifestyle with an engaging physical regime can help avoid unnecessary disorders and complications from surfacing. This will also sustain a good and a sound heart health.