Q. Why should I have my heart screened?
A. A simple cardiac screening can help detect problems before they become major medical issues.
• compete in high impact sports which increase your heart rate for long periods of time
• have a family history indicating a heart disease risk
• experience dizzy or fainting spells
• get shortness of breath that does not clear quickly
• get chest pain
Q. What is an electrocardiogram?
A. An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a simple test that can be used to check your heart's rhythm and electrical activity.
Sensors attached to the skin are used to detect the electrical signals produced by your heart each time it beats. ECG These signals are recorded by a machine and are looked at by a doctor to see if they're unusual.
When an ECG is used
An ECG is often used alongside other tests to help diagnose and monitor conditions affecting the heart.
It can be used to investigate symptoms of a possible heart problem, such as chest pain, palpitations (suddenly noticeable heartbeats), dizziness and shortness of breath.
An ECG can help detect:
Abrnormal Heart rhythms (Arrhythmias) – where the heart beats too slowly, too quickly, or irregularly coronary heart disease – where the heart's blood supply is blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances heart attacks – where the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked cardiomyopathy – where the heart walls become thickened or enlarged. However, it does not show whether you have asymptomatic blockages in your heart arteries or predict your risk of a future heart attack. A series of ECGs can also be taken over time to monitor a person already diagnosed with a heart condition or taking medication known to potentially affect the heart.
How an ECG is carried out
The test involves attaching a number of small, sticky sensors called electrodes to your arms, legs and chest. These are connected by wires to an ECG recording machine. You don't need to do anything special to prepare for the test.
Q. What is the difference between an ECG and an Echocardiogram?
A. An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a test to measure the electrical activity and rhythm of your heart. Small electrodes are placed on your chest, arm and legs, and recorded on the ECG machine.
An Echocardiogram (ECHO) is a more advanced test, using ultrasound to produce a visual image and allow a more in-depth analysis of your heart function (provided at Adult sessions Only).
An Echo Explained (Adult Screening)
An ECHO (Echocardiogram) uses high frequency sound waves to make pictures of your heart chambers, valves, walls and the blood vessels (aorta, arteries, veins) attached to your heart.
It can help diagnose and monitor certain heart conditions by checking the structure of the heart and surrounding blood vessels, analysing how blood flows through them and assessing the pumping chambers of the heart.
The procedure looks at the size and structure of the heart and allows the doctor to assess how well your heart is pumping blood. The test is safe, simple and takes approximately 15-30 minutes to perform.
When an Echo is used
An ECG is good for identifying electrical problems in the heart, whereas an echocardiogram provides pictures of the heart’s structure.
If your ECG result suggests that there might be a problem then, if appropriate, you will also have an echocardiogram scan.
The echocardiogram can help the doctor to make a diagnosis or to confirm that your heart is fine.
How an Echo carried out
An echocardiogram is carried out by a doctor or technician who has been specially trained to do this.
The doctor/technician will place some clear gel on your chest and then move a small scanning device around your chest (in contact with the gel).
As it moves across the chest the scanner uses sound waves to create pictures of the inside of your heart, which will be displayed on a monitor. These pictures are constantly updated, so the scan can show the movement of your heart too.
What an Echo can show
An echocardiogram test will be undertaken during the screening process if there are any potential abnormalities identified on the ECG result. An echocardiogram can help your doctor check the following:
The overall size and shape of the heart
The size, thickness and movement of the heart walls
How the heart moves during each heartbeat
The heart’s pumping strength
If the heart valves are working correctly
If blood is ‘leaking’ through the heart valves
If the heart valves are too narrow
If there are problems with the outer lining of the heart
If there are problems with the large blood vessels that enter and leave the heart
If there are blood clots in the chambers of the heart
If there are abnormal holes between the chambers of the heart
After your ECG & ECHO (Adult Screening ONLY)
A qualified Cardiologist will read your ECG & ECHO report and determine if any abnormalities are present.
If not - happily the screening process will be over for you.
If so - your NHS GP will be informed by letter for referral into the NHS.
Q. Are there any risks or side effects?
A. ECG & ECHO are quick, safe and painless tests. No electricity is put into your body while it's carried out, and both tests are non-invasive.
With the ECG there may be some slight discomfort when the electrodes are removed from your skin – similar to removing a sticking plaster – and some people may develop a mild rash where the electrodes were attached.
More Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What age is screening open to?
A. Our heart screening initiative is open to everyone aged 8-45 years old, usually screened over separate days, with one session open to 8-17 year olds, and a session open to 18-45 year olds. The screening sessions are suitable for persons who have not previously had an electrocardiogram and are otherwise fit and healthy.
Q. Why is the screening limited to 8-45 years olds?
A. 8 is the absolute minimum age we can screen due to the fact that at this age, the heart is still developing and we want to ensure that we get an accurate reading. It is possible to be screened over the age of 45, but this is the age group that is most vulnerable to heart conditions that can cause a cardiac arrest. These conditions can be picked up by our screening. People over the age of 45 are more likely to suffer from conditions which cannot be detected by a heart screening, such as a heart attack. This means that a heart screening could come back completely normal for some heart conditions, but it unfortunately can't rule out the possibility of a heart attack.
Q. So what can I do if I'm over 45 and am worried about my heart health?
A. There isn't really a test that can determine the likelihood of a heart attack, and many lifestyle choices can factor in, which means there are things you can do to help keep your heart healthy. We would recommend that you maintain a healthy diet, limit alcohol consumption and keep active as much as you can. If you have any concerns, or if you have a family history of heart problems, your GP may be able to offer you other tests, such as blood pressure tests to monitor your heart health.
Q. How often should I have an ECG?
A. If you have had a normal ECG reading and no further input was sought we recommend having one every 5 years, unless you are experincing new symptoms. If you have had an abnormal ECG reading, we would advise yearly tests. If you required a Gp referral and/ or further tests- your Gp will advise you on your ongoing treatment.
A series of ECGs can also be taken over time to monitor a person already diagnosed with a heart condition or taking medication known to potentially affect the heart.
Q. What should I wear? Can I leave my bra on?
A. Men usually remove their shirts, your chest may need to be shaved to attach the electrodes. Women generally can wear a bra and a loose top. You may be asked to remove your bra if the doctor cannot position the electrodes properly with this on.
Q. Can I drink caffeine or alcohol before an ECG?
A. We advise you to avoid drinking caffeinated drinks for at least two hours before the test because this can affect your heart’s rhythm. Alcohol should be avoided for at least 24 hours prior to the test.
Q. Can I have an ECG if I am pregnant?
A. Yes the test is safe in pregnancy and doesn't affect the baby.