Catheters are inserted into a vein and an artery to help determine the function and condition of the heart, valves and coronary arteries. It is the only test that can provide an accurate "road map" of the coronary arteries.
Heart valve disease is a treatable condition if diagnosed early. If you are over 65 or think you may have any of the symptoms of heart valve disease, ask your GP for a check-up.
When visiting the GP keep a record of the symptoms that you’re experiencing. Also keep a record of the exercise and distance you are doing if you are experiencing symptoms of tiredness and breathlessness. Click here to access our symptom tracker here.
Diagnosis starts with a simple step – listening to the heart with a stethoscope. To diagnose heart valve disease, the doctor needs to use a stethoscope to listen for the characteristic heart “murmur” or “click-murmur” which is usually the first indication of a heart valve disorder. They should listen to four positions on your chest during the check.
If the GP detects an abnormal heart murmur they will refer you to the hospital for further tests. Further diagnostic tests will be undertaken, ranging from electrocardiography (recording the heart’s electrical activity), through to echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart). These and other more sophisticated diagnostic tests allow doctors to make a more accurate diagnosis of heart valve disease and determine the level of severity. The cardiologist can give an accurate diagnosis of the type of heart valve disease (stenosis or regurgitation) and which valve that is effected.
This reveals general information about the size and shape of the heart. If a heart becomes enlarged due to valve disease it, will assume different shapes depending on the particular valve disorder.
This simple test records the heart's electrical activity via electrodes attached to the skin. It is the most direct way to assess the rhythm of the heart. The electrical impulses are recorded in the form of waves on graph paper.
This painless, non-invasive test is used routinely to diagnose valve abnormalities. Ultrasound equipment takes images of the heart while it's beating, providing a view of blood flow through the heart and identifying areas of regurgitation, if present.
A nuclear scanning method, this tests injects a small amount of radiation into the body via the bloodstream. The radiation is monitored while the patient is at rest and during exercise, providing information about the heart muscle and blood flow, as well as the size and shape of the heart's pumping chambers (ventriculi).
Passing a probe down the oesophagus provides an image of the heart from behind. This test may be used both prior to and during surgery to accurately show valve regurgitation.
Eventually, though, I knew something was up. My GP had noticed a heart murmur and referred me to a cardiologist about 7 years ago. This had been monitored each year, and then 6 monthly reviews as my aortic valve was narrowing due to calcification. Despite this close monitoring, my valve had worsened and my diagnosis had become severe. So we needed to move quickly to get things done. Click here to read Ian Wintrip's story