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Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension Diagnosis

Because early PAH mimics many other diseases, your doctor will conduct a series of tests over a period of months to rule out other conditions and confirm your diagnosis. These tests can include:

  • Chest X-ray is a non-invasive test that takes pictures of the heart and lungs; these can help the doctor determine if there’s heart failure or certain lung problems that are causing chest pain.
     
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is a simple non-invasive test that can be done in the doctor’s office using small adhesive pads called electrodes that are placed on the arms, legs, and chest. These electrodes are connected to a machine that detects and prints out the heart's electrical impulses, giving a 10-second snapshot of what the heart is doing right at that moment.
     
  • Echocardiogram is a non-invasive test using ultrasound (sound waves) and a device called a transducer—which is placed on the surface of the chest—to create a moving picture of the heart. It shows how well the heart is pumping blood.
     
  • Right-heart catheterization uses a catheter (long thin flexible tube) that is inserted through a vein in the leg, arm or neck and guided to the right side of the heart to provide a closer look at the pulmonary artery, which delivers blood from the heart to the lungs. Using this approach your doctor can check blood pressure to see if blood is "backing up" and damaging the heart, and evaluate volume status, heart function and the artery’s ability to deliver enough oxygen to the body. 
     
  • Pulmonary function tests refer to a series of breathing tests that measure lung capacity and mechanics to determine if there’s a problem with your lungs.
     
  • Perfusion lung scan is used to measure blood flow through the lungs. This test uses a radioactive substance that is injected into the blood and collects at spots where blood flow is abnormal. The radiation emitted by this substance is detected by a scanner and helps to create a picture of the lungs.
     
  • Six-minute walk test is used to measure how a person’s heart and lungs respond to exercise. During this test, a person walks on a flat, hard surface—such as a hallway—for six minutes. Measurements such as blood pressure and blood oxygen rates may be taken during and/or after this test.