Diagnosing Heart Valve Disease

‚ÄčThe presence of problems in heart valve function is usually diagnosed first through auscultation, or listening to the heart with a stethoscope.  The detection of a possible abnormality will incent your physician to request additional testing.


Echocardiography is the main tool used to evaluate heart valve disease.  This procedure, sometimes referred to as an echo test or heart ultrasound, takes real time moving pictures of your heart as it works. These video images can be evaluated by your doctor to view heart valvefunction. This procedure does not require a hospital stay and is painless.

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is performed to confirm the presence of a suspected heart ailment and can be a diagnostic tool or used interventionally to treat a heart condition.  A cardiac catheterization is a broad term used to describe the insertion of a catheter into an artery to gain access to the heart; this is generally done through the femoral or radial arteries under a local anesthetic. Contrast agents can; be used to observe blood flow and heart valve function.

Chest X-ray

A chest x-ray can be used to view much of the anatomic structure of the chest including the lungs and heart.  This procedure is very common and is painless.


EKG picture

An electrocardiogram, also called an EKG or ECG, is used to assess the electrical activity of the heart over a period of time.  This is done by placing electrodes, or leads, on the surface of the body that can detect abnormalities in heart function including its rhythm and electrical impulses. 

The image to the right show how EKG leads are placed on the body.  This process is painless and takes just a few minutes.

Exercise Stress Test

An exercise stress test, sometimes called a stress test can be performed in conjunction with echocardiography and an EKG to note changes in your heart's function during exercise.  To perform this test, patients are asked to walk on a treadmill to increase heart rate during and after which its activity can be observed through ultrasound and EKG.

If it is determined that you have an abnormality with one or several of your heart valves, you and your physician can discuss potential treatment options or surgery.

This information is provided by the Department of Surgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. It is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.