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UT Southwestern Medical Center offers state-of-the-art cardiac tests that help our heart experts evaluate patients’ cardiovascular health.

After experienced UT Southwestern laboratory technicians perform the testing, our highly skilled cardiologists interpret the results and use them to inform personalized patient care.

What Are Cardiac Tests?

At UT Southwestern, we offer a variety of tests for diagnosing heart conditions: two types of echocardiography and an exam called a cardiac stress test, which might be conducted in several ways.

An echocardiogram (echo) is a cardiovascular imaging study that uses ultrasound to visualize the heart, allowing doctors to see the heart in two or three dimensions to evaluate its structure, function, blood flow, and output and look for abnormalities and defects.

The two types of echocardiography are:

  • Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE): Noninvasive, commonly used, and considered the standard; also called a “heart ultrasound” or “heart sonogram”
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE): Minimally invasive, used to better visualize the aorta, valves, and pulmonary artery when there are questions about the TTE images

UT Southwestern’s expert cardiologists use echocardiograms to carefully diagnose and guide the treatment of a variety of heart disorders.

What Conditions Are Diagnosed with Echocardiogram?

An echocardiography study might be appropriate for patients diagnosed with or suspected of having conditions such as:

What Should a Patient Expect During an Echocardiogram?

Transthoracic Echocardiogram (TTE)

An echocardiography technician places an external probe (echocardiographic transducer) on the patient’s chest wall and takes images by moving the transducer around to see different angles of the heart on a video monitor. An enhancing agent or dye is sometimes administered by IV to help the heart’s structures show up better on the images. The resulting 3D images provide valuable details about the lower left heart chamber, the heart’s main pumping area.

Transesophageal Echocardiogram (TEE)

An echocardiography technician places a slim, specialized transducer probe down the throat into the esophagus while the patient is sedated. TEE allows the ultrasound probe to get close to the heart without interference from the ribs, lungs, or chest muscles, creating images of the heart from inside the body.

What Is Stress Testing?

In addition to echocardiograms, UT Southwestern also offers cardiac stress testing.

Conducted under the supervision of skilled cardiologists and health care professionals, these tests are instrumental in assessing the heart’s function and diagnosing various cardiac conditions. Patients are closely monitored to evaluate their heart’s response to physical exertion or pharmacological stimulation.

This noninvasive procedure helps determine the presence of coronary artery disease, heart rhythm abnormalities, and overall heart health. The tests include:

  • Exercise treadmill test (ETT): Known as the standard cardiac stress test, this is a common diagnostic procedure used to evaluate the heart’s response to physical exertion. During an ETT, the patient walks on a treadmill while their heart rate, blood pressure, and electrocardiogram (ECG) are monitored. The test gradually increases in intensity to stress the heart. This helps identify abnormalities in heart rate, rhythm, and blood flow that might not be present at rest.
  • Stress echocardiograms: There are three types – the treadmill stress echo, the bicycle stress echo, and the dobutamine stress echo. The first two are done right before and after the patient exercises in our medical office, either on a treadmill or bicycle. The results can help to diagnose cardiac disease early on, or to assess the progress of patients with known heart disease. If the patient cannot exercise, dobutamine might be given to make the heart work harder (in lieu of walking on the treadmill or pedaling the stationary bike).
  • Nuclear stress test: This imaging test supplies additional information about how blood goes to the heart at rest and during exercise. It uses a small amount of a radioactive agent, called a tracer or radiotracer, that enters the bloodstream via IV. An imaging machine takes pictures of how the tracer moves through the heart arteries.

What Support Services Are Available for Cardiac Testing?

UT Southwestern’s cardiac rehabilitation specialists create customized plans that integrate proper nutrition, exercise, and, if necessary, nicotine cessation into patients’ lifestyles to improve their cardiovascular health.

What Clinical Trials Are Available for Cardiac Testing?

As one of the nation’s top academic medical centers, UT Southwestern offers a number of clinical trials aimed at improving the outcomes of patients with cardiovascular disease.

Clinical trials often give patients access to leading-edge treatments that are not yet widely available. Eligible patients who choose to participate in one of UT Southwestern’s clinical trials might receive treatments years before they are available to the public.