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Heart (Cardiac - Contrast)

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Heart scans 101: heart medical imaging and more

According to the CDC, heart diseases are the leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, 850,000 people in the U.S. have a heart attack each year.

Certain symptoms, such as chest pains and heart flutter, may point to a serious heart condition. Thanks to advances in technology, heart imaging procedures can detect heart problems before they lead to a severe cardiac event. Heart scans are great non-invasive tools for examining the heart's arteries, valves, and chambers.

By using sound waves, radio waves, or X-rays, heart scans can produce detailed images of your heart. The main goal of these scans is to help doctors assess your heart’s baseline condition and detect calcium-containing plaque in your arteries. This helps your doctor assess your risk for coronary artery disease and protect your heart health.

Why do I need a heart scan?

You may need a heart scan to assess for early signs of heart disease, like calcium deposits in the lining of your arteries.

These scans are usually advised for adults 50 to 70 years old; they are rarely recommended for people younger than 40. This is because calcium development is relatively minimal at younger ages and doesn’t show up on a heart scan. However, if you have a history of heart disease, murmur, or other conditions, your doctor may order a heart scan as a preventive health measure.

What does a heart scan show?

A heart scan can detect the presence of calcium in your heart’s arteries. Heart disease occurs when arteries are blocked by inflammation or plaque. A heart scan produces images of the:

  • Aorta
  • Ventricles
  • Blood vessels
  • Heart valves
  • Rib cage

Common causes of heart & chest pain

Heart pain is sometimes best described by the sensations it causes: think sharp, stabbing pain, crushing pressure, and dull aches.

Certain heart and chest pain is caused by severe issues that require urgent medical attention. For example, a heart attack, or myocardial infarction (MI), occurs when there is a blockage or restriction of blood flow to the heart muscle. Other causes of heart and chest pain may include:

  • Aortic dissection. This condition occurs when there is a tear in the inner layer of the aorta, the body's main artery.
  • Angina. This painful condition is caused by inadequate distribution of blood to the heart.
  • Blood clots in the lung.
  • Panic attacks.

What diagnoses are associated with heart pain?

The following diagnoses are often associated with heart pain:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Muscle disorders
  • Esophageal hypersensitivity
  • Stomach problems, including ulcers
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Lung problems
  • Depression

Medical imaging scans for heart conditions

There are several scans available to evaluate the condition of the heart and surrounding blood vessels.

Heart MRI scan

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can provide vital information on the heart and lead to diagnoses.

A heart MRI is ideal for diagnosing conditions when other tests have been inconclusive. It uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to create images of the heart. A radiographer–a specially trained MRI technician– conducts the scan, which can detect a wide range of heart conditions, including coronary and congenital heart diseases. An MRI scan of the heart will also show the severity of a heart condition.

A scan with this level of detail helps your doctor develop the best treatment plan for you.

Heart CT scans

A heart CT scan, or computed tomography scan of the heart, is an imaging procedure that utilizes X-rays to produce detailed images of the heart and its blood vessels.

The test takes about 10 minutes, and you are required to remain still to prevent the scan from producing blurred images. A heart CT scan will show if there is a buildup of calcium in the heart’s arteries. It may reveal if the blockage is in the arteries supplying blood to the heart itself. A CT heart scan can also diagnose other kinds of heart conditions.

Heart ultrasound (echocardiogram)

A heart ultrasound uses sound waves to produce images of your heart. These images are then analyzed to identify the presence of heart disease. A heart ultrasound scan allows your doctor to view your heart as it actively pumps blood. There are two types of echocardiogram tests:

  1. Stress echocardiogram. A stress echocardiogram test evaluates how well your heart and blood vessels function. You will need to exercise on a treadmill or bike while your doctor takes ultrasound images of your heart to determine if your blood vessels are getting enough oxygen.
  2. Transthoracic echocardiogram. A transthoracic echocardiogram test involves using a device that sends sound waves into the chest and picks up echoes that reflect off of various parts of the heart.

How much does a heart scan cost?

The cost of a heart scan will vary based on the type of scan you’re receiving, your insurance coverage, and your insurance copay. The average cost of the scan itself is $1,000 to $3,000, with the average copay falling between $150 and $300.

How long does a heart scan take?

The length of a heart scan depends on the type of scan being performed. Here are some useful averages:

  • Heart CT scan: 10 minutes
  • Heart MRI scan: 15 to 90 minutes
  • Heart ultrasound (echocardiogram): 10 to 30 minutes

Find a heart imaging center near me

Heart scans are simple, non-invasive procedures that tell your doctor if you are at risk of certain heart diseases. If you are looking for a heart scan, check out scan.com’s scan search tool to find an imaging location near you.

Resources:
  1. www.mayoclinic.org
  2. www.nhs.uk
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/chest-pain
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/heart-scan/about/pac-20384686
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.html