What do you need to know about scans?
When might you need a scan?
There are many different tests to diagnose a heart condition or to find out how your heart is doing.
A scan might be needed if your doctor suspects that there might be problems with the valves or chambers of your heart, or if they think that heart problems are the cause of symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain.
A scan can:
- Diagnose structural abnormalities such as holes in the heart chambers or leaking or narrowed valves
- Measure the function of the heart muscle
- Detect fluid that may have collected around the heart.
Types of scan
- A transthoracic echocardiogram (commonly known as an echo). This is a scan of the heart using a machine, a probe and gel. The probe is placed on the chest wall and ultrasound pictures are taken of the heart.
- A transoesophageal echocardiogram (commonly known as a TOE). This is also an ultrasound scan of the heart, but the probe is passed into the oesophagus
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). MRI is a way of creating detailed images of your heart and blood vessels. Unlike an X-ray, an MRI scan does not use radiation.
- Myocardial perfusion scan (MPS). MPS uses a small amount of radioactive substance to create images which show blood flow to the heart muscle. The scan usually consists of stress and rest periods so that doctors can see the effects of physical exercise on your blood flow.
Once the scan is completed, the results are sent to the doctor who has requested the test, to help them to make a decision about your care.
How long does a scan take?
Scans can be performed on outpatients. They can be done in as little as 30 minutes. However, some appointments can take a few hours, and, if you’ve been given a sedative, you won’t be able to drive and will need to be taken home by a friend or relative.
However, it is unlikely that the results will be available immediately. Usually, your doctor will discuss the results with you in a couple of weeks.
To prepare for a scan
- Talk to your doctor if you have any medical implants (e.g. a pacemaker), stents, or if you are pregnant
- Wear loose clothing that is easy to remove. You will be given a gown or sheet to maintain your dignity
- You might be advised not to have any food or drink containing caffeine for 24 hours before the test
- Be prepared to lie still for about 30 – 60 minutes
- Let the sonographer or doctor know if the scan is causing too much discomfort.