Screening for unrecognised heart valve disease

The screening appointment: having the heart scan

Recent improvements in scanning equipment have made it possible to get high quality pictures of the heart using mobile equipment. This means heart valve screening can now be done in local GP surgeries, and the research study is looking at the advantages and disadvantages of this. Everyone who agrees to take part in the study is offered a first appointment at their GP practice (See also Booking the appointment and getting there).
The scan uses ultrasound technology, like that used in pregnancy to scan unborn babies.
The heart scan builds up images of the heart’s four chambers and how well the valves are working. The researchers also check each person’s height, weight, pulse and blood pressure, take blood samples, ask some questions about their previous medical history and general health, and ask them to complete two short questionnaires. Overall the appointment takes up to an hour, of which 20-30 minutes is for the actual scan.
The scan is carried out by specialist staff from the research team who are trained to do heart scans, and who come out to local GP surgeries from the hospital. This means the appointments system runs separately from normal GP appointments. Generally people reported few problems with waiting times and found it all very efficient and relaxed.
As Fraser, Peg and Roy explain, having the scan means you have to undress to the waist and lie on a couch. People generally understood the need for this and most people we talked to were not worried about it. However, Susie pointed out that for women of her generation it could be embarrassing.
In Susie’s case, the relationship with the member of staff was vital in making her feel comfortable and reassured. The ultrasound staff all happened to be female. Several women, including Anne, Elizabeth and Pamela, said they would not have minded whether it was a man or a woman, but Carolyn and Rene said they preferred to have a woman if possible. Carolyn recalled some experiences with male doctors which made her feel quite strongly about this.
There were many positive comments about the care and kindness shown by the ultrasound staff, their friendly manner, and the way they talked through what was involved and answered questions. Being able to see the pictures on the screen afterwards was something several people liked.
Lech said how impressed he was that the technician could tell from the scan pictures that he had had a heart attack in the past. Occasionally people who were told something was wrong said they would have liked to have more information or to be able to put questions to a doctor, and this is discussed further in ‘Getting results’ and ‘Attending follow up appointments’.
Ultrasound scans are painless, so few people reported any discomfort from having the scan, apart from a few minor comments about the gel on your chest feeling rather cold. The only exception to this was when people found it uncomfortable to lie on their side, but staff found alternative ways to do the scan.

Last reviewed August 2016
Last updated August 2016.

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