Non-invasive artery disease testing
Alan Grossman, MD, is a cardiologist at Banner Estrella Medical Center.
Question: Are there tests for coronary artery disease that are noninvasive?
Answer: Because coronary disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, it is important to have your doctor do a stress test to check the blood flow through your arteries to be sure there are no blockages that could cause a coronary event such as a heart attack or stroke.
Several noninvasive tests, which are very safe and effective, can be done in your doctor’s office. One of the most common is called nuclear stress testing. This involves injecting a clear radioactive fluid into the patient’s veins while they are exercising on a treadmill. This allows the doctor to determine how the blood flow is to the heart. The compound is a radiopharmaceutical that has a proven safety record. It attaches to a substance that is absorbed by a normal heart muscle. It not only can identify a patient who has coronary disease, but it can also help the doctor know a patient’s future risk of a heart attack. The test is about 90 percent accurate.
Patients who have trouble exercising can be given a pharmacological stress test, which takes the place of exercising on the treadmill. This is good for people who have trouble walking or who have trouble with their legs. The patient can be given certain medications, which stimulates the heart to mimic the physiologic effects of exercise. The process is safe and is carefully monitored.
Echocardiography is another noninvasive method of testing for coronary artery disease. During this test, ultrasound waves are used to produce images of the heart at rest and at the peak of exercise.
The most important thing an individual can do is talk to their physician about the right stress test for them.