Q. What does a heart screening entail?
A. The heart screening sessions involve a 15 minute test (approximately) which is quick and painless and able to detect any heart abnormalities. The doctors carrying out the tests will then review the results and let you know if you need a further test.
You will undergo an ECG (Electrocardiogram) which looks at the electrical conduction pathways around the heart. Small stickers known as electrodes are placed on the client’s chest and the wires connect to an ECG machine whilst they lie still.
A printout of the heart’s electrical activity is obtained for evaluation by the cardiologist. From the information provided, measurements are taken which give a guide to muscle thickness and size of the chambers of the heart.
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.
An ECG explained
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.
An ECG may be requested by a heart specialist (cardiologist) or any doctor who thinks you might have a problem with your heart, including your GP.
The test can be carried out by a specially trained healthcare professional at a hospital, a clinic or at your GP surgery.
Despite having a similar name, an ECG isn't the same as an echocardiogram, which is a scan of the heart.
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:
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 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
There are several different ways an ECG can be carried out. Generally, 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. You can eat and drink as normal beforehand.
Before the electrodes are attached, you'll usually need to remove your upper clothing, and your chest may need to be shaved or cleaned. Once the electrodes are in place, you may be offered a hospital gown to cover yourself.
The test itself usually only lasts a few minutes, and you should be able to go home soon afterwards or return to the ward if you're already staying in hospital.
Types of ECG
There are 3 main types of ECG:
A resting ECG – carried out while you're lying down in a comfortable position a stress or
An exercise ECG – carried out while you're using an exercise bike or treadmill
An ambulatory ECG – the electrodes are connected to a small portable machine worn at your waist so your heart can be monitored at home for 1 or more days The type of ECG you have will depend on your symptoms and the heart problem suspected.
For example, an exercise ECG may be recommended if your symptoms are triggered by physical activity, whereas an ambulatory ECG may be more suitable if your symptoms are unpredictable and occur in random, short episodes.
Following the results of your ECG, if required an ECHO will be performed on the day (Adult Screening 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.
Are there any risks or side effects?
ECG & ECHO are quick, safe and painless tests. No electricity is put into your body while it's carried out.
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.
An exercise ECG is performed under controlled conditions. The person carrying out the test will carefully monitor you, and they’ll stop the test if you experience any symptoms or start to feel unwell.