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Diagnostic Procedures

Diagnostic Heart/Vascular Testing in San Antonio

For many patients at Southwest General Hospital, heart care may begin with a physician referral or after a routine Coronary Calcium Scan (or other screening test). Whichever path you take to your cardiologist, you can count on state-of-the-art technology and the expertise, professionalism, and compassionate care you’ve come to expect from your providers at Southwest General Hospital. If you have questions about diagnostic services at the hospital, call 1-877-215-WELL.

24-hour Holter Monitoring

A Holter monitor is a small device that your cardiologist may have you wear at home and at work, as you go about your normal daily routine. The device monitors changes in your heart rate, which may provide your cardiologist with information about your heart condition. You may be asked to keep a record of your activities while wearing the Holter monitor.

Arterial Color Flow Doppler

This ultrasound test is helpful for examining the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart. During the test, a small handheld transducer is placed over the chest. The transducer emits sound waves, which bounce off the arteries. The sound waves are converted to colors, thereby creating an image of blood flow through the heart.


An arteriogram (also referred to as an “angiogram”) is a type of x-ray test. It can be used to visualize the blood vessels almost anywhere in the body. An angiogram may be used for diagnosing coronary and peripheral artery diseases. Arteriography goes one step further than traditional x-ray, however. As a part of this procedure, the patient is injected with a special contrast dye. This dye – known as a “tracer” – may be detected by the x-ray machine, which allows the physician to see how blood is moving through your blood vessels.

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a common technique used by interventional cardiologists. It can be used for diagnostic and treatment purposes. From the diagnostic standpoint, cardiac catheterization is useful in detecting arterial blockages, viewing the heart’s valves and structures, measuring blood flow in different areas of the heart, checking in on artificial devices within the heart, and taking biopsies from the heart muscle.

Here’s how a cardiac catheterization procedure works: A small incision is made just above an artery (typically the femoral artery in the groin). A catheter is inserted into the artery, and threaded to the area that requires treatment/evaluation. Once the catheter is in place, other instruments and/or substances may be passed through the catheter, as needed. Once the cardiologist’s work is done, the catheter is removed and a bandage is placed over the insertion site – no sutures necessary. Patients go home the same day in most cases.

Chest and Abdominal X-Rays

A chest x-ray may be necessary if your cardiologist needs to view the heart, coronary arteries, or other tissues. This is a common diagnostic procedure for patients who may have heart failure or lung-related health issues. Abdominal x-rays are frequently used to evaluate patients who may have an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). Learn how AAAs are treated.

Echocardiography (Heart, Neck, Abdomen)

An echocardiogram is another type of Doppler ultrasound. This noninvasive procedure may be used to view the coronary arteries in the heart, the aorta in the abdomen, or the carotid arteries in the neck, as well as other regions of the body. Patients with severe coronary artery disease symptoms may be advised to have this test.

Depending on your health condition, your cardiologist may ask you to walk on a treadmill during your echocardiogram. This is referred to as a “stress test” or “treadmill test.” If you are unable to exercise, you may be given medication to simulate the effects of exercise in your heart.

Another type of echocardiogram is a transesophageal echocardiogram. In this version of the procedure, which is performed while the patient is sedated, a small transducer is passed down the throat and through the esophagus for better imaging of the heart. Most patients do not need this type of echocardiogram.

Electrocardiogram (ECG / EKG)

An electrocardiogram (you may know the test as an EKG or ECG) is a noninvasive diagnostic exam that monitors the heart’s electrical activity. Prior to the test, you will have several electrodes placed on different areas of your chest. You may be asked to breathe normally, hold your breath, or even engage in some mild physical activity, such as walking on a treadmill. The cardiologist may be able to diagnose your heart problem based on the data gathered during the EKG.  

Fractional Flow Reserve

Fractional flow reserve (FFR) measurement is a catheter-based diagnostic procedure that measures blood pressure and blood flow through a coronary artery. This test can precisely measure the size of a blockage in the coronary artery, which may help your cardiologist decide whether to treat the blockage with medication or an interventional procedure. Typically, an FFR value of 0.8 or greater means intervention may be necessary. A blockage with an FFR of 0.8 or lower may be treated with drugs.

Intracardiac/Intravascular Ultrasound

This type of ultrasound is a catheter-based procedure performed from within the heart (“intracardiac”) or blood vessel (“intravascular”). Intracardiac ultrasound is being used as an alternative to transesophageal echocardiogram in some patients. These procedures can also help your cardiologist determine if a blockage in your arteries can be safely treated with medication, or if an interventional procedure will be required.

Lab Blood Tests

There are many lab blood tests that your cardiologist can use to diagnose your heart-related symptoms. Depending your symptoms, your cardiologist may require cholesterol and lipid tests, platelet function tests, cardiac enzyme tests, C-reactive protein tests, or other tests. If your blood test results suggest the presence of plaque buildup in the arteries, you may be advised to have a coronary calcium screening, an affordable, noninvasive screening for plaque buildup in the coronary arteries.

Nuclear Cardiology

Nuclear cardiology is a subspecialty within cardiology. Cardiologists in this field use noninvasive techniques to assess blood flow through the heart and nearby arteries. One common type of nuclear cardiology test is myocardial perfusion imaging. In this test, a small amount of contrast dye is injected into the blood stream. As the imaging agent is pumped through the heart and vascular system, the cardiologist can view heart function with advanced imaging technology. Nuclear cardiologist testing may also include positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

Pacemaker and Defibrillator Checkup

Pacemakers are small implantable devices that monitor and regulate heart rate. Implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) are similar devices; many now include pacemaker function, as well. Because these devices are battery-powered, they need to be monitored in order to ensure they’re in good working function. Your cardiologist can check in on your pacemaker by attaching electrodes to your chest (similar to an EKG). This is a painless, noninvasive procedure.

San Antonio Heart Care in Your Neighborhood

For more information about diagnostic procedures and heart care in San Antonio, call Southwest General Hospital at 1-877-215-WELL.

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San Antonio, TX 78224
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