Diagnostic procedures for heart conditions

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Learn about diagnostic procedures used to detect heart conditions in children and how to help your child get through tests.

Key points

  • Doctors will order one or more diagnostic tests to figure out what is wrong with your child's heart.
  • Your child may require sedation or anaesthesia during these procedures.

Diagnostic tests are tests ordered by a doctor to help figure out the cause and type of any problem. For some of these tests, your child will need to be given sedation or anaesthesia. You will be told about the test before your child has it, along with certain things you will need to help prepare your child for the test.

Will your child need to have a lot of tests?

Your child may have one or more of the following tests to help diagnose a heart condition:

  • blood work
  • oxygen saturation monitoring
  • electrocardiogram (ECG) or variations such as a Holter monitor or telephone transmitter
  • exercise tests, such as the treadmill test, bicycle test, and 6-minute walk test
  • echocardiogram (echo) or variations such as the fetal echocardiogram, transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE), dobutamine stress echocardiogram, and bubble study
  • imaging studies, such as a chest X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or CT scan
  • nuclear medicine scan tests, such as the stress MIBI test, MUGA scan, and ventilation perfusion scan
  • heart catheterization or a variation called anelectrophysiology study (EPS)

Your child may need to have several tests if the source of the condition is not immediately obvious. Sometimes results from one test may be inconclusive and the doctor needs to try some others to either rule out or confirm a diagnosis.

How can you help your child get through tests?

The health professionals who will be giving your child tests are very skilled at what they do, and skilled at working with children. They will be as gentle and efficient as possible. They will take into consideration your child's age and experiences and adjust their approach accordingly. If a procedure is expected to cause significant pain or discomfort, sedation or anaesthesia will be used.

Here are some ways to help your child with tests or treatments:

  • If your child is old enough, explain ahead of time what to expect, using words your child can understand.
  • Stay calm. Your reaction to a stressful situation can influence your child's reaction.
  • Encourage your child to breathe. Some children tend to hold their breath in response to pain.
  • Help your child think of other happier thoughts. Sometimes distraction helps.
  • Hold or stroke your child as appropriate, depending on their age.

Ask your child's health care team for ideas for coping with specific tests or treatments.

Last updated: December 11th 2009