Submitted by Vanessa Woznow, Senior Consultant, Communications and Public Affairs

On Tuesday, February 8, stress echo tests – the first of its kind in Surrey – were completed at the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre in Surrey.

“Stress echo tests are a non-invasive way of assessing different cardiac conditions using ultrasound technology. They are most commonly used to diagnose coronary artery disease. Previously, within Fraser Health stress echo tests had only been available at Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Royal Columbian Hospital”, says Peter Wierzbicki, cardiac ultrasound supervisor.

The big advantage of this test, in comparison to other non-invasive cardiac testing, is that it is very safe, reproducible and has no radiation exposure. It can also inform the cardiologist about the patient’s baseline cardiac muscle and valve function, in addition to determining if they have blocked heart arteries.

Cardiovascular disease – blockage of the arteries – is one of the most common diseases in Canada, and chest pain is a common presenting symptom to health care professionals.

“Having an efficient, accurate and cost-effective diagnostic test, such as the stress echo, helps us determine if someone’s chest pain or shortness of breath is being caused by coronary artery disease without having to undergo invasive cardiac procedures, such as an angiogram,” says Dr. Matthew Chamberlain, a cardiologist with extensive stress echo experience, who recently joined the Surrey cardiology team.

Three health care professionals standing in stress echo testing roomDr. Chamberlain is a medical lead of the team that performs stress tests, and he believes that test administration will continue to grow in our region.

 “This marks the beginning of an extremely positive culture change away from radiation-exposing diagnostic tests, towards safer, but equally accurate alternatives,” he says.

Fuzail Ali, diagnostic cardiology supervisor, was another key team member and collaborated with Peter to help oversee all of the technical and logistical aspects of making stress echo available in Surrey. Together, they worked with the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre in Surrey's treadmill electrocardiogram (ECG), clerical and administrative teams to bring the test to the community.

“Worth mentioning is the fact that making stress echo available here coincided with the acquisition of four top-of-the-line GE Vivid echo scanners, which significantly enhance image quality – hence more accurate diagnosis,” says Peter. “The training is ongoing for the technologists who ultimately will make stress echo a part of their day-to-day routine.”

The availability of the test will have positive spin-offs for patients waiting for diagnoses.

“Stress echo is one of the most informative and valuable tests that any of us have in our arsenal for assessing symptoms that may – but may not – be attributable to underlying coronary disease or other cardiac issues, like valvular disease,” adds Dr. Chamberlain. “I also believe it will help reduce the wait times for regular echo and stress tests because now many patients could potentially just be sent for one test.”

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