The heart is a two-stage electrical pump that circulates blood throughout the body. The anatomy includes four chambers and four valves. For the heart to function normally these structures need to be intact and the heart muscle needs to beat in a coordinated fashion, so that blood flows in and out of each chamber in the proper direction.
An echocardiogram (echo=sound + card=heart + gram=drawing) is an ultrasound test that can evaluate the structures of the heart, as well as the direction of blood flow within it. Technicians specially trained in echocardiography produce the images and videos, often using a special probe or transducer that is placed in various places on the chest wall, to view the heart from different directions. Cardiologists, or heart specialists, are trained to evaluate these images to assess heart function and provide a report of the results.The echocardiogram is just one of the many tests that can be done to evaluate heart anatomy and function.
An electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG) is the most common heart tracing done. Electrodes are placed on the chest wall and collect information about the electrical activity of the heart. Aside from the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat, the EKG can provide indirect evidence of blood flow within arteries to heart muscle and the thickness of heart muscle.
Cardiac catheterization is an invasive test performed by a cardiologist, where a catheter is threaded into the coronary arteries (those arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood) through the femoral artery in the groin, the radial artery in the wrist, or the brachial artery in the elbow. Dye is injected into the coronary arteries looking for blockage. In some instances, the blockage can be corrected by balloon angioplasty where a balloon is inflated at the level of blockage, re-establishing blood flow. A stent can be used to keep the artery open. This test can also assess the size and function of the heart chambers and valves, and the major arteries and veins that enter and leave the heart.