Getting To The Heart Of Your Chest Pain

The last time you exercised, your chest hurt enough to make you see your doctor for a checkup of your heart. There are a number of reasons why your heart might complain by creating your chest pain. Here are some of the common forms of heart disease and how your cardiology doctor will find the problem.

The Healthy Heart

Your heart is a large muscle that pumps blood through your body. There are four sections to your heart with valves to keep the blood moving in the right direction. Special blood vessels, called the coronary arteries, provide blood to the heart muscle to keep it functioning. Special cells on the heart generate an electrical impulse which cause the heart to beat in a prescribed rhythm.

To work properly, the heart muscle, valves, coronary arteries and electrical system must work together. A failure in any one of those four areas can cause your heart to stop working.

Heart Disease

Your chest pain was caused by some area of your heart failing. It's your body's way of getting your attention. The problem can be in any of the four parts of the heart described above. The various heart diseases by area include:

  • Heart Muscle - Cardiomyopathy occurs when a portion of the heart muscle is enlarged, becomes thicker than normal or becomes less flexible. These changes in the heart muscle affect how well the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body.
  • Heart Valves - Valvular heart disease occurs when one or more of the valves stop working correctly. The valves can be damaged by a childhood disease, rheumatoid fever, or by an infection in the heart muscle.
  • Coronary Arteries - When these blood vessels become damaged, they can't provide your heart with the oxygen-rich blood it needs. Atherosclerosis is a disease that causes fatty deposits to buildup on the walls of the blood vessels, restricting the blood flow through them.
  • Electrical System - When the electrical system is not keeping all parts of the heart muscle working in sync, an abnormal heart rhythm, or an arrhythmia, occurs. An irregular heart beat can reduce the effectiveness of the pumping mechanism so the rest of the body doesn't get the blood it needs.

Diagnosing Heart Disease

Your cardiologist will prescribe one or more of the following tests to determine the cause of your heart problem.

  • Electrocardiogram - This measures the electrical activity in your heart and shows where that system is failing.
  • Holter Monitoring - With this test, you'll carry a small device with you for at least a day to record your heart rhythm. This will show your doctor what times of the day you experience an abnormal heart beat.
  • Chest X-rays - These will show the basic image of the heart and any signs of enlarged areas.
  • Echocardiogram - This test uses ultrasonic waves to create an image of the heart while it is beating. The doctor will look for enlarged parts of the muscle and where the tissue is not as flexible as the rest of the heart.
  • Cardiac catheterization - A thin tube is inserted into a vein or artery and guided into your heart. Pressures in the heart can be taken directly. A dye can be injected into the heart while X-rays are done to show the blood flow through the sections of the heart and the valves.
  • CT and MRI Scans - These scans use x-rays or a magnetic field to produce a detailed image of the heart. Damaged heart valves and muscle can be seen with these scans.

Once your doctor has the information back from all of these tests, they can determine what the real issue is and start you on the right treatment to reduce your pain and prevent further damage to your heart.