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What Are Electrophysiological Tests?

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 2 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Electrophysiological Tests Heart Heart

The heart beats without us consciously telling it what to do and the rhythm of the heart maintains itself over the course of sometimes a century of life. When something goes wrong with the electrical control circuits that make regular heart beats possible, this can have very serious effects on health. Listening to the heart, or visualising it using imaging technology can detect some problems such as faulty heart valves or blocked blood vessels but problems in these electrical control circuits can only be detected using electrophysiological tests.

These tests allow doctors to follow the way that electrical activity spreads through the heart muscle, comparing it with the normal patterns seen in healthy hearts. They can detect abnormal rhythms before they have a chance to become dangerous.

What does Having and Electrophysiological Test Involve?

The tests do not require surgery but they are referred to as invasive diagnostic tests. You will be asked not to have anything to eat or drink for several hours beforehand, as sometimes the effect of the test can make your heart experience strange rhythms and this can make you feel dizzy and sick. Having an empty stomach is best if you are anxious as you may be given a sedative to make you feel relaxed and a bit drowsy while you are having the test.

When you go into the treatment room, you will have numbing injections in your upper thigh or groin, at the point in your main veins where needles and thin catheters will be inserted. This fine, flexible tubes are gently pushed through your main veins until they reach the heart. Each one has an electrode at the tip and, once these are in place in different parts of your heart, they can be stimulated to make the heart beat in different ways.

How are Test Results Obtained?

During the test you will be hooked up to an electrocardiogram machine with a real-time display and printout so that the doctors doing the test can see what is happening then and there and can also record the traces of your heart for more detailed analysis later.

How Do You Feel During an Electrophysiological Test?

Most people do feel anxious, that is why a sedative is often given but many people have the test every year without any problems. You may experience some strange sensations in your chest as the catheters with the electrical stimulators are pushed into place, but then you will not be aware of them. You may feel as though you are having palpitations during the tests and it is normal for your heart to show some abnormal beat rhythms. Nursing staff and doctors are on hand though and you should say immediately if you do start to feel very ill, or you start to have chest pains.

After the catheters are removed, there may be some slight bleeding from the entry points and you will be allowed to rest in a bed for a couple of hours before you go home. Most electrophysiological tests are done as a day case procedure, so you should be OK to go home afterwards. Be sure not to drive yourself though.

You will probably feel tired by the experience, but you should not experience any bad after effects.

What Do Electrophysiological Tests Reveal?

The tests can show how well the control circuits of your heart are working and can identify parts of your heart that are having problems either sending or receiving signals. The doctors looking after you can then decide whether it is best to use different drugs, or whether you need to have an artificial pacemaker fitted to your heart to take over the job of controlling your heart beat.Having electrophysiological tests can be stressful but it will be good to find out what the problem is, and what the best treatment might be, so that you can start to feel better in the long term.

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