Tests to establish whether people are at risk of, or have suffered, heart disease or stroke can involve chemicals being injected into the body – invasive – or readings taken externally only – non-invasive.
An electrocardiogram (ECG) measures the rhythm and electrical activity of the heart.
Small metal patches, called electrodes and set in sticky plaster, are put on the arms, legs and chest and connected by wires to a recording machine.
The test can detect abnormalities of heart rhythm and can tell whether the patient has had a heart attack in the past.
The test has limitations – abnormal readings can have an innocent explanation and some patients with serious heart problems can have a normal ECG.
Exercise ECG, otherwise known as exercise stress testing, is an ECG taken while exercising on a treadmill or stationary bicycle.
It is often more accurate than a resting ECG and is used to test whether there is a lack of blood supply through the arteries that go to the heart.
The exercise is made increasingly difficult and blood pressure and breathing are monitored at the same time.
Holter monitoring, also known as 24-hour ECG, involves electrocardiogram recordings taken over 24 hours and can help diagnose palpitations, which occur infrequently and can easily be missed in a short test.
The electrodes are placed on the chest and attached with wires to a small portable tape recorder which is worn on a belt around the waist.
The recorder – the Holter monitor – takes constant or intermittent readings.
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