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Cardiovascular Imaging and Heart Scans

At the NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute, our advanced cardiac imaging capabilities help provide a comprehensive evaluation of your cardiovascular condition. Through the use of state-of-the-art imaging technology, our experts can accurately diagnose, treat and manage a wide range of cardiovascular conditions and diseases, including structural heart disease, coronary artery disease, heart failure and peripheral artery disease.

NorthShore’s experienced cardiac imaging specialists utilize various complimentary imaging techniques—from advanced nuclear testing to innovative stress cardiac MRI—to both identify cardiovascular issues in symptomatic patients as well as monitor and treat patients who have been diagnosed with a heart condition.

Our skilled team is highly trained at determining the best cardiovascular imaging technique(s) for your unique situation based on your medical history, symptoms and risk factors. We work collaboratively as a team of clinical experts and with your referring physician to customize care.

We offer accessible cardiovascular imaging services at multiple locations across the Chicagoland area.

The following advanced imaging techniques are utilized at NorthShore:

Echocardiogram (Echo) | Advanced Nuclear Cardiology | Cardiac MRI | Cardiac CT Angiography | Coronary Calcium Scoring | Vascular Imaging

Echocardiogram (Echo)

An echo, or ultrasound of the heart, is a non-invasive imaging technique that allows cardiologists to examine the structure of the heart, including the valves and muscles. It can also be used to assess how well the heart is working, and can be particularly helpful to diagnose or evaluate congenital heart defects, heart disease, chest pains, coronary artery disease, heart attack and murmurs.

At NorthShore, our high-volume echocardiogram center features experienced experts trained in echo testing. We offer the latest advanced techniques and customize our approach based on your specific needs. Accredited by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC), our complete echocardiography imaging services attract patient referrals from throughout the Midwest region.

Depending on your unique condition and symptoms, your cardiologist may perform one or more of the following echocardiograms:

  • Transthoracic Echo (TTE) – The most commonly performed echo, TTE involves placing a transducer (or probe) on the surface of your chest. This test is often used for patients with heart murmurs, heart failure and valve issues (leaky or clogged). It is also used to follow a patient over time when symptoms change.
  • Transesophageal Echo (TEE) – TEE involves inserting a flexible tube into your throat for a more detailed picture of the heart and valves. This imaging test assists with modeling of the heart. By creating a 3D view of heart, it allows our cardiovascular experts to visualize the heart before appropriate treatments. This type of echo is most commonly used to assess structural heart disease. When coupled with cardiac CT and MRI images, a transesophageal echo can provide a comprehensive picture of the heart’s structure. We also use TEE to guide minimally invasive heart valve procedures performed by our interventional cardiology specialists.
  • Stress Echo – For stress echocardiograms, images are taken both before and after physical activity such as a treadmill workout. Alternatively, a pharmacological agent can be used in place of physical activity to simulate heart pumping during exercise. This technique is frequently employed to assess coronary artery function or in cases of known or expected heart disease. It is also often used when there is a change in cardiac symptoms.
  • Bike Stress Echo – This comprehensive imaging technique provides real-time images of the heart throughout the entire course of the test.  In this test, a patient pedals on a bike with their legs slightly elevated, which allows for simultaneous echo test. This test allows our team to see a cardiac issue develop in tandem with its symptoms. It also lets our team identify a cardiac problem prior to symptoms appearing.
  • Dyssynchrony Echo – This type of echo is used for patients with arrhythmias and can be very helpful with device management, such as a pacemaker, as well as for choosing the most effective device to treat a cardiovascular condition.
  • Strain Echo ‒ Revealing subtle changes in heart function, speckle-tracking strain echo is a highly sensitive imaging tool. It offers invaluable diagnostic and prognostic information, especially for cardiac-oncology patients. Using this emerging imaging modality, we are better able to capture subclinical effects of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation to monitor and help prevent the development of heart disease.

Our imaging team is on the forefront of innovations in the field, so that we are able to improve the quality and accuracy of our imaging. We routinely perform specialty echocardiograms for clinical research trials to offer the best, most customized treatments and interventions to our patients.

Advanced Nuclear Cardiology

Nuclear imaging techniques allow our clinical experts to get a closer look at how your heart is working. Cardiac nuclear testing is done to assess the blood flow to the heart and to determine the overall strength of the heart muscle. These tests involve a small dosage of a radioactive tracer. A high-end gamma camera detects photons from this tracer and produces images of the heart accordingly.

NorthShore has some of the most advanced technology in place for performing cardiac nuclear testing, including the revolutionary CZT (cadmium zinc telluride) gamma camera. Not available at all centers, this technology dramatically reduces both the time and radiation exposure required to perform the test. Providing our patients with a safer and more comfortable nuclear imaging experience, this advanced imaging modality yields highly accurate images to best determine, diagnose and treat cardiovascular conditions. The CZT gamma camera is used for evaluating coronary artery disease as well as identifying the cause of various heart disease symptoms, including chest pain or shortness of breath.

Some of the specific nuclear testing our team utilizes includes:

  • Cardiac Nuclear Stress Testing – Nuclear stress testing is done when the heart it is at rest as well as when it is stressed (either by exercise, medicine or both). This stress test helps provide our cardiovascular team with insight on areas of low blood flow, damaged tissue and overall heart muscle strength. It is most commonly used to diagnose coronary artery disease.
  • PET – A positron emission tomography (PET) scan helps identify the viability or overall health of the heart muscle. More viable, functioning heart tissue will display differently on the image than tissue that is either dead or injured, making it easy for our cardiovascular team to identify which areas of the heart will improve with revascularization (such as stents or bypass surgery).

    A PET scan is commonly used to determine the amount of damage caused to the heart after a heart attack, and can also be used to diagnose coronary artery disease as well as other less diagnosed conditions such as sarcoidosis (inflammatory cells) and cardiomyopathy. This test can also help guide and evaluate treatment for a variety of cardiovascular conditions, including congestive heart failure.

  • Tc-PYP – This test helps to identify why some patients have congestive heart failure. It is one of the best methods for diagnosing ATTR cardiac amyloidosis—the most common heart failure condition in patients 60 to 70 years of age. Tc-PYP allows for early and appropriate medical management. It is a simple “resting” test for patients, requiring no specific preparation.

Cardiac MRI

Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used for assessing and evaluating heart structure and function in a non-invasive way without the use of radiation. This technology combines a magnetic field, radiofrequency waves and a computer to produce highly detailed pictures of heart anatomy as well as the blood flowing through it and major vessels. At NorthShore, our specialists employ this test to evaluate heart size, structure, valvular disease and heart muscle viability. We also use it to calculate ejection fraction—the measurement of the percentage of blood that leaves the heart with each contraction. With its ability to characterize living or dead heart tissue, a cardiac MRI can greatly assist with diagnosing the cause of heart failure.

Cardiac MRI also serves as a guide to treatment. By better understanding heart function, we can more accurately determine the best options such angioplasty and bypass surgery for treating blocked arteries. 

At NorthShore, our cardiac imaging specialists have particular expertise performing cardiac MRI stress testing to evaluate coronary artery disease. Examining adequate blood flow to the heart, this type of imaging offers an alternative to exercise-based stress tests. It is particularly useful for patients who cannot exercise or raise their heart rate enough through physical exertion. The Cardiovascular Institute is one of a few institutions in the area that employs this robust technique.

Cardiac CT Angiography

Cardiac computed tomography (CT) angiography is an imaging technique that allows physicians to get a clear look at the coronary arteries. This rapid test utilizes detailed x-ray images typically with contrast dye administered via an IV to highlight blood flow in real time. This non-invasive imaging study helps identify potential blockages and narrowing of the arteries that may cause chest pain and lead to heart attacks.

Your physician may recommend cardiac CT angiography if you are experiencing chest pain and/or suspected coronary artery disease; have had an inconclusive stress test; or are exhibiting heart disease symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue and/or swelling of ankles and feet.

Cardiac CT scans can also help provide interventional cardiologists, electrophysiology physicians and cardiac surgeons with a roadmap for how to best treat other cardiovascular conditions such as coronary artery disease, diseases of the aorta and other structural heart problems.

At NorthShore, our team is committed to staying up-to-date on innovations and advancements in CT technology. We use the sophisticated dual source CT scanner SOMATOM Force from Siemens. An ultra-low dose scanner that minimizes patient exposure to radiation, the technology produces the highest quality images for precision diagnosis. Additionally, NorthShore uses cardiac CT FFR (fractional flow reserve)—a non-invasive technology developed by HeartFlow®—to measure and analyze blood flow through the coronary arteries. This hemodynamic information offers insight into where and why blood flow is being restricted within the arteries to help guide the best treatment strategies from minimally invasive catheter-based procedures to open heart surgery.

Coronary Calcium Scoring

Also known as a “heart” scan, this low radiation CT imaging study helps reveal plaque buildup inside the coronary arteries. If you are at low to moderate risk for heart disease, your physician may recommend this common screening test to better understand your heart health. Knowing your risk or “score” can lead to earlier prevention and treatment strategies. The best candidates for coronary calcium scanning or scoring are individuals who are asymptomatic and have no risk factors for heart disease.

Vascular Imaging

Our cardiovascular team employs various imaging techniques to better diagnose and treat vascular issues associated with veins and arteries. Our team utilizes MRI and CT scans to assess vascular conditions as well as the following imaging tests:

  • Vascular Ultrasound (Arterial and Venous) –  Non-invasive imaging tests help our team identify blood clots and other blockages in both the arteries and veins. These tests are very commonly used to help diagnose peripheral arterial occlusive disease, peripheral aneurysms, aortic aneurysms, venous reflux/varicose veins and deep venous thrombosis (DVT). Featuring one of the busiest ultrasound labs in the region, our team has extensive experience with this imaging modality. All of our vascular ultrasound exams are performed in our accredited vascular laboratories by certified technologists.
  • Angiogram –  An angiogram is a commonly-used invasive technique, where a small catheter is inserted into an artery, and contrast dye is injected into the blood vessels of interest. The physician takes pictures to look for problems with the blood vessels. An angiogram may be used to help make a diagnosis. It may also be used in conjunction with minimally invasive therapy, such as stent placement to open a blocked vessel.
    • CT Angiogram: Along with a CT scan, our team of experts may also use a CT angiogram. This special CT scan helps our team of experts look more specifically at the blood vessels themselves. This test allows our team to better evaluate a narrowing or blockage in a blood vessel, generally caused by a buildup of fat (cholesterol) or calcium. It can also be used to help better determine the size and shape of a bulging vessel (aneurysm) or a tear in a vessel (dissection).
    • MR Angiogram: An MR angiogram is a special MR imaging scan, which helps us look more specifically at the blood vessels themselves. This test allows us to better evaluate a narrowing or blockage in a blood vessel, generally caused by a buildup of fat (cholesterol) or calcium.  It can also help us better determine the size and shape of a bulging vessel (aneurysm) or a tear in a vessel (dissection).

At the NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute, our team of cardiovascular experts will determine the best cardiac imaging test or tests to utilize based on your unique medical history, symptoms and risk factors. We use some of the most advanced imaging technology and equipment to provide highly accurate, quality images to best guide diagnosis and treatment.

For more information about our advanced cardiovascular imaging services, please call 224.251.5950.