Diagnosing valve and other heart problems requires a pristine view of the heart. With non-invasive cardiac imaging techniques available at The Heart Center of Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC), patients benefit from advanced imaging techniques for the most accurate diagnosis and procedure planning.
If a patient suffers from significant regurgitation, called valve leakage, or stenosis, where the valves narrow, he or she may experience significant discomfort or just shortness of breath. While some valvular leakage is minor and doesn’t require treatment, significant valve leakage can place additional strain on the heart. Similarly, narrowing of the heart valves can result in the heart working harder to pump blood. This can result in a decreased amount of oxygen in the blood.
Symptoms of heart valve problems may vary, and some people never experience symptoms. Most develop symptoms slowly over time, but some develop them suddenly if valvular disease progresses quickly. Symptoms are similar to other very serious conditions, such as a heart attack.
Symptoms of valve conditions include:
- Shortness of breath
- An inability to maintain a normal level of activity
- Chest pain or unusual heart rhythms
Treating any valve condition, whether patients experience symptoms or not, begins with cardiac imaging that show the heart’s valves in real-time for accurate diagnosis and treatment planning.
With recent advances in cardiac imaging, patients often undergo non-invasive tests to determine if they have a valvular condition, or to rule out other heart conditions. Cardiologists and technologists at The Heart Center of NGMC perform 3-D echocardiography, or cardiac ultrasound, to obtain detailed views of the heart that can be altered in different ways to glean additional details.
These trained specialists take a variety of photos from areas surrounding the heart. They take both transesophageal pictures—which involve inserting an ultrasound probe in the esophagus—and transthoracic images—which takes ultrasound pictures from outside the chest wall. These images help accurately diagnose a structural heart condition, such as leaky valves, and determine the best treatment option.
“The ability to obtain 3-D imaging that can be sliced and diced to get details of the heart anatomy is truly innovative,” says Abhishek Gaur, MD, FACC, medical director of echocardiography at the W.D. Stribling Heart Clinic at NGMC. “Images of the valves and other heart structures appear just as they would during heart surgery. This is extremely helpful in planning valve surgery or minimally-invasive valve repair using catheter-based techniques.”
By using these high-quality images, heart surgeons and interventional cardiologists can choose the most appropriate type of surgery, determine the nature and size of the device or implant needed, and evaluate the treatment’s success.
Other Uses for Imaging
In addition to evaluating heart valve conditions, 3-D echocardiography can be used to identify an atrial septal defect, or hole in the partition between the two top chambers of the heart. This type of imaging tells physicians how complex the defect is, what shape it is, and identifies its location. These details are crucial as doctors plan surgical or minimally-invasive procedures for closing the hole.
Some patients who suffer from atrial fibrillation (Afib) and are at higher risk for stroke may benefit from a WATCHMAN® device, an implant used for reducing the risk of stroke in patients with non-valvular AFib. The real-time, three-dimensional imaging at The Heart Center of NGMC helps specialists with device planning and implantation.
Finally, cardiologists can accurately estimate how much blood each chamber of the heart can hold using this imaging technology. That can improve the diagnosis and care for patients with advanced heart failure.
“The Heart Center of NGMC was among the first few organizations in the region to successfully implement a 3-D echo imaging program,” Dr. Gaur says. “We have a sophisticated, advanced program with state-of-the-art ultrasound machines and trained noninvasive cardiologists and echocardiographers that serve patients with the latest technology for diagnosis and treatment of heart problems.”
To request an appointment with a cardiologist with The Heart Center of NGMC, call 770-534-2020 or visit heartngmc.org/appointment
Call the Heart & Vascular Services department at 770-219-5416 or send us a contact form for more information.