What is Invasive Testing?
Invasive testing is a procedure that provides information about the function and structure of an organ, in this case, the heart. Invasive testing can consist of inserting a tube, device or scope. Heart conditions can be diagnosed by blood tests, implantable loop recorders and coronary angiography, which consists of an x-ray of the heart arteries. It is a highly beneficial way to diagnose and treat heart conditions among older individuals.
When is it necessary?
Invasive testing is used to diagnose heart conditions, plan future treatments and carry out medical procedures. It may be necessary if you have experienced a heart attack or stroke. With invasive testing, it helps to measure the blood pressure and function of the heart. Diagnosing the condition promptly will allow medical professionals the information needed to treat the condition.
What Types of Invasive Testing May Be Done?
Different types of invasive testing may be conducted for elderly heart patients, including coronary angiograms, blood tests and implantable loop recorders. Here’s a little more information on how these tests are completed and the benefits of the procedures.
According to the NHS, “coronary angiograms are specialist X-rays to identify blockages in the blood supply to the heart.”
The procedure is usually carried out under local anaesthetic. So, you’ll be awake, but the area where the catheter is inserted will be numbed. The catheter is a long, thin tube that is inserted into a blood vessel in your groin or arm, and it is then passed up to the heart and arteries. A special dye is inserted through the catheter and x-ray images are taken.
The NHS states the dye “is visible on the angiograms, showing the blood vessels [that] the fluid travels through” and “this clearly highlights any blood vessels that are narrowed or blocked.”
After the procedure, the area where the catheter is inserted is likely to be tender for up to a week, and if you have experienced any bruising, it can take up to two weeks to heal. You could also feel tired due to the local anaesthetic and your doctor will advise you of any activities you should avoid for a limited time. This can include lifting heavy objects and driving.
With this procedure, there are some risks that you should be aware of, including infection, swelling, bleeding under the skin and high temperature. There is also a small risk of severe complications, including heart attack, kidney damage and stroke. If you are concerned, you must contact your GP immediately.
The NHS states that blood tests are “done to rule out other causes of heart symptoms and to measure different levels within the body that can affect the heart”. They can also detect if you have experienced a heart attack.
A blood test involves taking a blood sample from a blood vessel in your arm. This is done by attaching a needle to a syringe, which is inserted into a vein inside your elbow or on the back of your hand. You may feel a slight scratch, but the procedure shouldn’t be painful.
Once the blood sample has been taken, pressure will be applied on the wound using a cotton wool and a plaster may be applied.
You may feel faint during and after the test, so notify the nurse, doctor or phlebotomist if you experience these symptoms. If you have fainted in the past during a blood test, please let the person conducting the test know. If you are afraid of needles, let the medical professional know, so they can make you feel more comfortable. Also, ensure you are well-hydrated.
Implantable Loop Recorders
An implantable loop recorder “is a small device implanted under the skin to continuously monitor any abnormal heart rhythms.” The information is then recorded and stored for the medical team to review. It works like an electrocardiogram (ECG).
According to the British Heart Foundation, an implantable loop recorder is needed to diagnose why people experience symptoms such as dizzy spells, blackouts and heart palpitations. Your doctor might suggest having an implantable loop recorder fitted “to see how your heart has been working and find what might be causing your symptoms.”
It is a minor procedure and a healthcare professional will explain the process. There are two types of loop recorders – the traditional one and an injectable one. It tends to take 10 to 15 minutes to fit and will be done under local anaesthetic. So, the area where the loop recorder will be fitted, which is the left side of your upper chest, will be numbed and a small cut will be made. The implantable loop recorder will be placed or injected under the skin. The cut will then be stitched or glued.
Usually, after the procedure, if you feel well, you can go home. According to the British Heart Foundation, “you may need to limit your upper body movement for a few days to allow your cut and any bruising to heal.” You may also need to keep your cut covered with a dressing for up to a week to help keep it dry.
When you have been discharged, your doctor will give you information about your implantable loop recorder. Your implantable loop recorder will be removed once your condition has been diagnosed or if the battery has ended and needs to be replaced. The battery life can last up to three years. You may also be given a handheld activator, depending on the type of loop recorder you have. This will allow you to monitor the function of your heart.
You will be able to carry on with your regular daily routine once the device is fitted. This can include going to the gym and doing housework. If your experience any symptoms, make a note of when it happened and what activity you were doing. Or if you have a handheld activator, use this to record your activity.
What are the Benefits of Invasive Testing?
We understand it can be daunting to have an invasive testing procedure, but there are plenty of benefits. According to the Cardiac Screen, “regular heart screenings and cardiac tests help greatly in detecting early silent killers like hypertension, high cholesterol and other heart diseases.”
With early detection, medical professionals can prevent further complications and damage to the heart. This could mean you need to make lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise routine. However, a medical professional will devise a healthcare plan. So, please don’t make changes until you are told to do so.
Ultimately with early diagnosis of any heart condition, suitable treatment and preventative measures can be implemented. Therefore, invasive testing can lower the risk of death, heart attack and stroke.
Page reviewed by Deanna Lane, Clinical Manager on June 5, 2023