What’s Noninvasive Cardiology?

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Noninvasive cardiology uses imaging techniques to diagnose heart disease without entering the body. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scans, and echocardiography are common noninvasive procedures. Medical training in noninvasive cardiology focuses on electrocardiogram interpretation, echocardiographic image analysis, and cardiovascular computed tomography learning. Noninvasive procedures are often used as a preventative measure for patients with health or genetic risks. Tests last from 30 minutes to an hour and require little preparation.

Noninvasive cardiology involves the use of ultrasound or other imaging techniques to diagnose heart disease. Most medical centers and universities provide specialized training in noninvasive cardiology. Patients generally opt for noninvasive heart tests as a preventative measure.
Cardiologists and radiologists use various technologies and other equipment to evaluate the presence of cardiovascular disease in a patient. In invasive cardiology, doctors use stents, catheters, and other tools to enter a patient’s blood vessels and examine the heart. Non-invasive cardiology does not require entry into the body. Instead, doctors can evaluate a patient’s heart health through imaging, CT scans, and exercise tests.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) generates still and moving images of the heart, including the valves, vessels, and surrounding tissue. A CT scan, or computed tomography, also produces pictures of the heart’s anatomy and function. During this type of noninvasive technique, the doctor injects a special contrast dye into the patient, and the dye works with the scanner to produce X-ray images of the heart. An electrocardiogram is another common noninvasive cardiology procedure that records the overall activity of the heart.

Other tools used in noninvasive procedures include transthoracic echocardiography (TTE), transesophageal echocardiography (TEE), and stress echocardiography, which monitor overall heart health and detect disease, infection, or other conditions. A TTE exam uses a transducer, placed on the chest, to produce pictures of the heart as it pumps blood through its chambers and valves. During a TEE, the doctor places the transducer in the esophagus to record images of the heart in motion. Similar to TTE, a stress echocardiography involves the use of a transducer. For this particular procedure, the doctor records the heart rate and monitors the blood pressure while the patient exercises on a treadmill.

Medical students and physicians participate in specialized training courses in non-invasive cardiology and related procedures. Training can vary, but courses are often part of a residency, fellowship, advanced degree program, or continuing medical education. Training focuses on exercise testing, electrocardiogram interpretation, echocardiographic image analysis, and cardiovascular computed tomography learning.

Non-invasive cardiology offers the benefits of detecting and treating the early symptoms of heart disease. Patients with health or genetic risks generally qualify for stress tests or scans as alternatives to cardiac catheterization or other invasive procedures. Doctors perform noninvasive heart procedures on an outpatient basis, and tests last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Specific procedures, such as stress echocardiography, require patients to fast four to six hours before the test. Otherwise, patients generally don’t need to prepare in advance.

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