Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If your doctor thinks you have a congenital heart defect, or that your congenital heart defect may be to blame for more recent health problems, he or she will perform a physical exam, including listening to your heart with a stethoscope.

If your doctor hears an abnormal heartbeat, that's one clue that could mean you have a lingering heart defect issue. After detecting the murmur, your doctor could order other tests to diagnose its cause or get a better idea of what's going on in your heart. Possible tests include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). This test records the electrical activity of your heart. Some heart defects can disrupt the electrical signals in your heart, which in turn cause abnormal heart rhythms called arrhythmias. Patterns of the electrical signals can also provide clues about the presence of various forms of congenital heart disease.
  • Chest X-ray. X-ray images help your doctor further evaluate your heart and lungs.
  • Echocardiogram. An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce images of the heart. Your doctor can use these images to identify heart abnormalities.
  • Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Cardiac MRI is an imaging technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create images of your heart. In a cardiac MRI, you lie on a table inside a long tube-like machine that produces a magnetic field. The magnetic field aligns atomic particles in some of your cells. When radio waves are broadcast toward these aligned particles, they produce signals that vary according to the type of tissue they are in. Images of your heart are created from these signals.
  • Cardiac catheterization. Your doctor may use this test to check blood flow and pressures in your heart. A catheter is inserted into an artery, starting in your groin, neck or arm. It's then carefully threaded to your heart chambers under guidance of an X-ray machine that shows real-time images of your body. Dye is injected through the catheter, and the X-ray machine makes images of your heart and blood vessels. The pressure in the heart chambers also can be measured during this same procedure.
  • Exercise stress test. An exercise stress test may be performed to check your overall level of conditioning and your heart's electrical activity, heart rate and blood pressure during exercise. For this test you'll exercise on a treadmill or bicycle, sometimes with special sensors to check how much oxygen you use during exercise.
May. 13, 2011