A regular trip to the doctor includes sitting in a waiting room for an hour (after the scheduled appointment), being weighed and measured and waiting for a brief examination from the doctor to say, “You’re healthy and free to go.”
For someone with heart disease, it is not that simple.
The wait does not change and neither does being weighed and measured. After the initial examination, which is usually a quick check of the blood pressure and a listen to the patient’s heart, the tests begin.
At Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, cardiac patients have the luxury of having their test results read and deciphered on the day of their appointment. The nurses perform an electrocardiogram, or EKG. They get the print out of the results and put it in that day’s folder for the doctor.
Next, an echocardiogram, or an echo, is usually pre-scheduled. So, after a time in the examination room, a technician takes the patient to another room. Since it is a children’s hospital, there are different toys to distract squirmy children and a TV so they can lie still for the technician.
After the echo is finished, the patient returns to the examination room and waits for the cardiologist…and waits…and waits a little bit more until finally there is a knock on the door. The doctor finally comes and does a slightly more intensive check-up.
The cardiologist takes a very detailed listen to the patient’s heart; listening for specific things only a trained ear can hear. Sometimes the doctor will use a Doppler, which is used to check and measure blood flow, to get a clearer sound while taking the blood pressure, which is sometimes in both the arm and thigh.
Once the doctor has all of his listening done and has a full reading of the tests performed that day, he or she makes a decision on whether or not the patient needs further testing — such as a cardiac MRI or a stress test — or if there needs to be invasive action taken such as surgery or a heart catheterization.
Before an appointment, many patients do not know what the outcome will be. They are unsure if they will be told they need surgery (possibly again) or if they will be discharged and rescheduled for another visit in about a year.
The tests that regular cardiac check-ups include vary depending on the initial condition of the patient. Regardless of the patient’s condition, a cardiac check-up is more than height, weight, quick check and a lollipop to go.
The tests and appointment breakdown in this article are based off Cara Shumaker’s personal experience as a patient at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and her check-up that took place on Monday Feb. 18.