Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center

How Is Valve Disease Diagnosed?

sonographer during exam

The first step in diagnosing heart valve disease is listening to the heart with a stethoscope. If the valves are healthy, your doctor will only hear the normal two beats of the heart. Blood flowing through a defective valve, however, will produce a "whooshing" or "swishing" sound called a murmur.

Mild heart murmurs do not always imply valve disease. For further diagnosis, your doctor will listen to the lungs for possible fluid buildup, which indicates decreased heart pumping action.

If your doctor suspects valve disease, he or she may order one or more of the following tests:

  • A chest X-ray and an electrocardiogram (EKG) can help determine whether there is heart enlargement or an irregular rhythm, often a sign of valve disease.
  • Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) uses a hand-held ultrasound probe called a transducer on the chest, which bounces sound waves off the heart and other organs to create images on a computer screen.
  • A transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) is similar to a TTE, but the transducer is passed down the throat and into the esophagus, bypassing any sound wave interference created by the lungs, chest and breastbone.
  • Doppler echocardiogram uses Doppler technology to determine the speed and direction of blood flow.
  • 3D echocardiography and 3D TEE use advanced technology in the ultrasound probe and processing system to produce superior three-dimensional images of the beating heart.
  • Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (C-MRI) creates clear anatomical pictures of the heart on a computer screen for easy viewing and analysis.

Only TEE procedures require preparation and sedation, since the transducer probe must enter the mouth and be passed down the throat into the esophagus. You may experience some mild discomfort during the test, but most patients tolerate it very well.

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For more information about valve disease or to make an appointment, please call 713-441-2863 or complete the Contact Us online form.