Testing for Heart Valve Problems

Exercise Stress Test

Why is an exercise test sometimes needed for assessing a valve problem?

Also called a stress test or treadmill test, exercise testing can provide valuable information in patients with valvular heart disease, especially in those whose symptoms may be difficult to assess.

It has a proven track record of safety, even among symptomatic patients with severe aortic stenosis.

Your healthcare provider may use an exercise test in combination with echocardiography, an angiogram and cardiac catheterization.

Exercise testing helps evaluate changes in blood pressure, changes in symptoms, and the heart’s response to a more challenging workload. If you have a heart murmur, your healthcare provider will take note of any changes in the murmur that happen during exercise. Read more about exercise testing.

Chest X-ray

What is a chest X-ray?

A chest X-ray is a picture of the heart, lungs and bones of the chest. A chest X-ray can show the heart’s overall shape but it can't show the inside structures of the heart.

Why is it done on someone with a valve condition?

A chest X-ray shows the location, size and shape of the heart, lungs and the blood vessels. This image can provide initial basic information to the healthcare provider, because valve problems can sometimes change the shape of the heart or cause calcium build-ups in the heart or on the valves. These deposits may be visible on X-rays. Read more about chest x-ray procedures.

CT Scan

What is a CT Scan?

The CT scan captures multiple X-ray images to create a cross-sectional image of the heart and lungs without having to puncture the skin to place catheters. Like the MRI, this test sometimes takes clearer pictures. Unlike MRI imaging, the CT scan uses about the same amount of X-ray as is needed for an angiogram.

Although an echocardiogram, like transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) and transthoracic echocardiography (TTE, also known as a routine echo) is now the standard tool for assessing valvular heart disease, there are times when its effectiveness is limited in some patients. A CT scan creates images of the valve anatomy and allows for evaluation of the severity of stenosis and regurgitation. A CT scan can also determine whether there are valvular lesions or nearby tumors affecting the function. Read more about CT scans.

Cardiac Catheterization

How does cardiac catheterization help diagnose valve disease?

Although cardiac catheterization is most often used to look at the blood flowing to the heart muscle, it also can provide important information concerning narrowed heart valves, leaky heart valves, or blood that is not flowing through the heart as it should.

cardiac catheter

View an illustration of cardiac catheterization.

For valve disease patients, a cardiac catheter can:

  • Measure blood pressure within the heart and oxygen in the blood
  • Evaluate heart muscle function for moving blood through each chamber
  • Help to determine the best course of treatment

Cardiac catheterization is considered a “minimally invasive” procedure and is not necessary for every person who has a cardiac murmur or valve problem, but it can provide additional information when other tests may be inconclusive. Read more about cardiac catheterization.