Cardiovascular (cardiac) imaging uses the latest imaging technology — like a cardiac MRI, echocardiogram, electrocardiogram (EKG), cardiac CT and nuclear imaging — to get a clear picture of your heart and blood vessels. These images allow us to detect, diagnose and even treat a variety of cardiovascular conditions like heart failure and heart disease.
Peace of mind is at the heart of what we do
Cardiac imaging tests provide important answers about your heart health that can’t be seen with the naked eye. Whether we’re pinpointing the cause of your symptoms or monitoring your treatment plan’s progress, cardiac imaging tests are helpful tools heart experts use at almost every step of your treatment path.
Our team can detect and diagnose the full range of cardiovascular diseases, including:
If your primary care doctor or cardiologist believes that you’re living with a condition affecting your heart or blood vessels, ask them about how Tufts Medicine can support your heart care.
You can trust that our doctors and care team will do everything they can to quickly, efficiently and accurately diagnose heart conditions. We'll decide on the right tests for you based on your symptoms, medical history and family health history.
A cardiac MRI uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create images of the heart and the inside of your blood vessels. These images allow us to look for any potential conditions that can harm your heart health.
Your care team will walk you through how to prepare for your MRI with steps like removing all metal objects beforehand. It’s important to note that people with pacemakers or implanted defibrillators cannot undergo an MRI because the magnet can tamper with the devices. People with titanium implants (such as hip or knee replacements and most prosthetic heart valves and heart stents) are approved for an MRI.
At the start of your exam, a technician will place a special set of cardiac coils over your chest. These coils act as a radio antenna to pick up the signals emitted from your heart.
Midway through the scan, our technician will inject you with a safe dye called a contrast agent that helps light up specific tissues on the scan. This particular contrast agent is a chemical compound containing gadolinium, which enhances the heart images and illuminates any heart muscle scarring.
A CT scan is used to diagnose all kinds of conditions throughout the body, and they’re effective at visualizing the heart, too. A CT scan can help us evaluate blood vessels and coronary arteries for any signs of blockages or narrowing.
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound for your heart. We use echocardiograms to answer important questions, like:
- Are your heart valves leaking or restricted?
- Is your heart muscle thick?
- Is your heart pumping in a healthy way?
This test is performed by gliding a small hand-held wand (known as a transducer) across your skin. The transducer emits high-frequency sound waves that travel until they hit a boundary, like your heart muscle and valves, and create an echo. When the echoes return to the transducer, they produce images on the ultrasound monitor in real time.
A stress test is broken down into 2 parts:
- Looking at the heart by using an electrocardiogram (EKG), echocardiogram (echo) or dye injection
- Stressing the heart by exercising or using chemicals
There are different types of stress echocardiograms:
- Exercise stress echocardiogram: Also known as the more traditional approach, this involves running on a treadmill while attached to an EKG.
- Chemical stress test: When running on a treadmill isn't a safe option, we use medications to artificially stress the heart.
Exercise stress echocardiogram
It’s important to understand how your heart rate responds to exercise and rest. Exercise stress echocardiograms are special tests that allow your doctor to decipher whether you develop a heart obstruction when your heart rate increases during daily physical activities, like walking up stairs.
Your doctor will likely order an exercise echocardiogram when a normal echocardiogram shows a thickened heart muscle, yet no signs of obstructed blood flow while at rest.
A care team member will be by your side the entire exam, monitoring your blood pressure and electrocardiogram (EKG) as you exercise. You’ll start by walking on the treadmill at a moderately slow pace. The treadmill will increase speed and tilt upward like a small hill every few minutes. We’ll keep a pulse on how you’re feeling throughout the test by asking questions like:
- Are you short of breath?
- Do you feel faint or dizzy?
- Do you have any chest pain?
Once you reach your maximum level of exercise, you’ll lie down on your left side on a nearby bed so the specialist can take additional pictures of your heart.
Your care team will walk you through how to prepare for an exercise echocardiogram with instructions like:
- Not eating or drinking for 4 hours before our test
- Pause on taking any heart medications on the day of your test because we want to see how your heart functions without the influence of medications
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and sneakers
An electrocardiogram (EKG) is a test that checks your heart’s electrical activity. It’s used to diagnose conditions like heart failure, cardiac sarcoidosis and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, to name a few.
An EKG records the electrical signals as they travel through your heart, and interprets your heart beat and rhythm into a graph that your care team will examine.
Nuclear cardiac imaging
Nuclear medicine uses very small and safe amounts of radioactive material to identify any areas of the heart that are not getting enough blood or may not be functioning properly.
The power of cardiovascular imaging isn’t limited to diagnosing conditions. We’re pioneers in using cardiac ultrasounds to guide cutting-edge procedures, like:
- Alcohol septal ablation for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)
- Atrial septal defect (ASD) device closure
- Patent foramen ovale (PFO) device closure
- Surgical valve replacement
- Transcatheter valve replacement (TAVR)
Interventional radiology uses the power of image-guiding technologies to perform minimally invasive procedures. These technologies include:
Your doctor may recommend interventional radiology instead of surgery in certain situations.