Medical Imaging That Helps Assess Heart Health


Heart disease is the leading cause of death around the world. Contributing factors include a poor diet, lack of exercise, and genetics. Most doctors tell patients that the way to better cardiac health is through medically proven methods of eating better, regular exercise and taking precautions if your family has a history of heart disease.

To detect and combat heart disease, scientists have developed a variety of medical technologies. Medical imaging is a common method for doctors to determine the probability of a patient developing a heart condition. Below is a look at the medical imaging modalities physicians use to assess cardiac health.

CT and CAT Scans for Calcium Scoring

One frequently used medical imaging exam for determining the condition of the heart is through a CT or CAT scan. CT scans use X-rays and computer equipment to produce cross-sectional images of the body, including several types of tissues such as muscles. At Doctors Imaging, we calibrate CT equipment to use the lowest amounts of radiation required for each exam.

A Calcium Scoring screening uses produces imaging of the coronary arteries to determine if they are blocked or narrowed by the buildup of plaque – an indicator for atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease (CAD). The information obtained can help evaluate whether you are at increased risk for heart attack.

A CT scan for coronary calcium is a non-invasive way of obtaining information about the presence, location and extent of calcified plaque in the coronary arteries—the vessels that supply oxygen-containing blood to the heart muscle.

Because calcium is a marker of CAD, the amount of calcium detected on a cardiac CT scan is a helpful prognostic tool. The findings on cardiac CT are expressed as a calcium score. Another name for this test is coronary artery calcium scoring.

A positive test means that CAD is present, regardless of whether or not you are experiencing any symptoms. The amount of calcification—expressed as the calcium score—may help to predict the likelihood of myocardial infarction (heart attack) in the coming years and helps your doctor decide whether you need preventive medicine or adopt diet and exercise changes to lower your risks. The extent of CAD is graded according to your calcium score:

Calcium Score Presence of CAD
0 No evidence of CAD
1-10 Minimal evidence of CAD
11-100 Mild evidence of CAD
101-400 Moderate evidence of CAD
Over 400 Extensive evidence of CAD

Carotid Ultrasounds Can Detect Vascular Problems

If your doctor is concerned about the possibility of a vascular problem leading to heart disease, he or she may order a carotid ultrasound exam. The body has two carotid arteries and if either one becomes compromised, you could go into cardiac arrest or stroke. Ifyou’re worried about your cardiac condition, an ultrasound exam is a safe and effective form of medical imaging. Ultrasound exams simply use sound waves and computer technology to create their images. This allows patients and doctors to see the flow of blood throughout the body in real-time, making it easier to determine the causes of problems and choose treatments.

MRIs Examine Coronary Pathways

MRIs provide another method that doctors sometimes use to test the heart and blood flow through the coronary pathways. MRIs use strong magnetic and radio waves to create images of the internal body.

All these tests are important for gauging your cardiac health. All patients and their symptoms are different. Your doctor will recommend the exam that is right for your needs.

Learn More About Medical Imaging

CT Scan for Calcium Scoring by RadiologyInfo.org

Common Ultrasound Exams and How They Help

Ultrasounds are a very common form of medical imaging. They are painless, offer no risk of radiation, and can provide details of the interior of the body without making a single incision. However, there are various kinds of ultrasounds that can be administered for different parts of the body for different conditions.

Most people are aware of ultrasounds in relation to pregnancy. Ultrasounds use sonar power or sound waves in order to create images of internal organs without having to make incisions or use contrast material. Sound waves reverberate off the organs and bones and the ultrasound machine interprets the change in sound waves and uses computer technology to make an image. Because of the comfort on the part of the patient in concert with the information gleaned for doctors, ultrasounds are now able to do so much more.

Common Ultrasound Exams and How They Help You and Your Doctor

Ultrasound exams can determine problems like internal bleeding, vascular problems, and reproductive or sexual issues.

  • Abdomen: Most often ultrasound is used in the abdomen to see the abdominal aorta, bladder, liver, pancreas, and spleen.
    These exams will help your physician investigate blockages, pain, enlargement, malformation, narrowing of vessels, tumors, or abnormal function.
  • Appendix: When bacteria in the appendix are blocked from leaving, the appendix becomes irritated. Ultrasounds can help doctors determine the extent of the infection.
  • Carotid Doppler/Vascular: Doppler ultrasound can map the movement of blood through veins and arteries in the body. This is extremely useful if there is a possible blockage in the artery. Blood blockages are what cause conditions such as strokes, heart attacks, amputations, and other kinds of problems. The most common places to perform a Doppler ultrasound are at the neck and abdominal arteries leading to and from the brain and heart, mainly the aortic and carotid arteries. During this exam, the transducer (ultrasound wand) is held against the neck with ultrasound gel to prevent air pockets from forming as sound cannot penetrate the air. Patients report hearing pulse-like sounds when the procedure is happening. A carotid Doppler ultrasound differs from other forms of ultrasound because it measures the direction and speed of blood cells as they move throughout the vessels. The movement causes a change in the pitch of reverberating sound waves. This way doctors can tell if there is a blockage or damage to the vessel that could be detrimental to the healthy blood flow needed in the body. If you are concerned about cardiovascular health or high blood pressure, your doctor might consider having one of these ultrasounds performed. If you are aware that you are at high risk for heart attack or stroke, having crucial medical information gained from ultrasounds could save your life. Vascular ultrasounds help identify blockages in the arteries and veins and detect blood clots. This exam can help your doctor determine whether you are a good candidate for angioplasty procedures. Doctors use this exam to diagnose and evaluate varicose veins.
  • DVT/Venous: Clots that occur in larger veins are called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Blood clots can also occur in smaller veins that are closer to the skin. Symptoms of blood clots in the legs and arms vary and may include pain or cramping, swelling, tenderness, warmth to the touch and bluish- or red-colored skin. A blood clot can be life-threatening depending on the location and severity. Venous ultrasound: This test is usually the first step for confirming a venous blood clot, especially in the veins of the leg. Sound waves are used to create a view of your veins. A Doppler ultrasound may be used to help visualize blood flow through your veins. If the results of the ultrasound are inconclusive, venography or MR angiography may be used.
    This condition is often referred to as deep vein thrombosis or DVT (see above). A venous ultrasound study is also performed to determine the cause of long-standing leg swelling.
  • Gallbladder: Ultrasounds can determine the presence of gallstones which form when bits of cholesterol and others materials in bile combine to form solid masses.
  • Kidney and Kidney Stones: Kidney and bladder stones are solid build-ups of crystals made from minerals and proteins found in urine. Certain bladder conditions and urinary tract infections can increase your chance of developing stones. Your doctor may use an abdominal and pelvic CT scan, intravenous pyelogram, or abdominal or pelvic ultrasound to help diagnose your condition. If a kidney stone becomes lodged in the ureter or urethra, it can cause constant severe pain in the back or side, vomiting, hematuria (blood in the urine), fever, or chills.
  • Thyroid: Ultrasounds use sound waves in order to interpret the inner happenings of the body, including checking to see if the thyroid contains a cyst or tumor.

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