Cardiac examination

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In medicine, the cardiac examination, also precordial exam, is performed as part of a physical examination, or when a patient presents with chest pain suggestive of a cardiovascular pathology. It would typically be modified depending on the indication and integrated with other examinations especially the respiratory examination.


Like all medical examinations, the cardiac examination follows the standard structure of inspection, palpation and auscultation.


The patient is positioned in the supine position tilted up at 45 degrees if the patient can tolerate this. The head should rest on a pillow and the arms by their sides. The level of the jugular venous pressure (JVP) should only be commented on in this position as flatter or steeper angles lead to artificially elevated or reduced level respectively. Also, left ventricular failure leads to pulmonary edema which increases and may impede breathing if the patient is laid flat.

Lighting should be adjusted so that it is not obscured by the examiner who will approach from the right hand side of the patient as is medical custom.

The torso and neck should be fully exposed and access should be available to the legs.


General Inspection:

Inspect the hands for:

Inspect the head for:

Then inspect the precordium for:


The pulses should be palpated, first the radial pulse commenting on rate and rhythm then the brachial pulse commenting on character and finally the carotid pulse again for character. The pulses may be:

Palpation of the precordium

The valve areas are palpated for abnormal pulsations (palpable heart murmurs known as thrills) and precordial movements (known as heaves ). Heaves are best felt with the heel of the hand at the sternal border.

Palpation of the apex beat

The apex beat is found approximately in the 5th left intercostal space in the mid-clavicular line. It can be impalpable for a variety of reasons including obesity, emphysema, effusion and rarely dextrocardia. The apex beat is assessed for size, amplitude, location, impulse and duration. There are specific terms to describe the sensation such as tapping, heaving and thrusting.

Often the apex beat is felt diffusely over a large area, in this case the most inferior and lateral position it can be felt in should be described as well as the location of the largest amplitude.

Finally the sacrum and ankles are checked for pitting edema which is caused by right ventricular failure in isolation or as part of congestive cardiac failure.


One should comment on

Completion of examination

To complete the exam blood pressure should be checked, an ECG recorded, funduscopy performed to assess for Roth spots or papilledema. A full peripheral circulation exam should be performed.

See also

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Pulse tactile arterial palpation of the heartbeat by trained fingertips

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Aortic stenosis aortic valve disease that has physical basis in incomplete opening of the aortic valve

Aortic stenosis is the narrowing of the exit of the left ventricle of the heart, such that problems result. It may occur at the aortic valve as well as above and below this level. It typically gets worse over time. Symptoms often come on gradually with a decreased ability to exercise often occurring first. If heart failure, loss of consciousness, or heart related chest pain occur due to AS the outcomes are worse. Loss of consciousness typically occurs with standing or exercising. Signs of heart failure include shortness of breath especially when lying down, at night, or with exercise, and swelling of the legs. Thickening of the valve without narrowing is known as aortic sclerosis.

Heart sounds Noise generated by the beating heart

Heart sounds are the noises generated by the beating heart and the resultant flow of blood through it. Specifically, the sounds reflect the turbulence created when the heart valves snap shut. In cardiac auscultation, an examiner may use a stethoscope to listen for these unique and distinct sounds that provide important auditory data regarding the condition of the heart.

Heart murmur heart sound produced when blood flows across one of the heart valves that are loud enough to be heard with a stethoscope

Heart murmurs are heart sounds produced when blood is pumped across a heart valve and creates a sound loud enough to be heard with a stethoscope.

Auscultation listening to the internal sounds of the body, usually using a stethoscope

Auscultation is listening to the internal sounds of the body, usually using a stethoscope. Auscultation is performed for the purposes of examining the circulatory and respiratory systems, as well as the alimentary canal.

Mitral valve stenosis Mitral valve disease that is characterized by the narrowing of the orifice of the mitral valve of the heart

Mitral stenosis is a valvular heart disease characterized by the narrowing of the orifice of the mitral valve of the heart. It is almost always caused by rheumatic valvular heart disease. Normally, mitral valve is about 5 cm2 during diastole. Any decrease in area below 2 cm2 causes mitral stenosis. Early diagnosis of mitral stenosis in pregnancy is very important as the heart cannot tolerate increased cardiac output demand as in the case of exercise and pregnancy. Atrial fibrillation is a common complication of resulting left atrial enlargement, which can lead to systemic thromboembolic complications like stroke.

Aortic insufficiency aortic valve disease that is characterized by leaking of the aortic valve of the heart causes blood to flow in the reverse direction during ventricular diastole, from the aorta into the left ventricle

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Jugular venous pressure

The jugular venous pressure is the indirectly observed pressure over the venous system via visualization of the internal jugular vein. It can be useful in the differentiation of different forms of heart and lung disease. Classically three upward deflections and two downward deflections have been described.

Mitral insufficiency disorder of the heart in which the mitral valve does not close properly when the heart pumps out blood

Mitral regurgitation (MR), mitral insufficiency, or mitral incompetence is a form of valvular heart disease in which the mitral valve does not close properly when the heart pumps out blood. It is the abnormal leaking of blood backwards from the left ventricle, through the mitral valve, into the left atrium, when the left ventricle contracts, i.e. there is regurgitation of blood back into the left atrium. MR is the most common form of valvular heart disease.

In cardiology, an Austin Flint murmur is a low-pitched rumbling heart murmur which is best heard at the cardiac apex. It can be a mid-diastolic or presystolic murmur It is associated with severe aortic regurgitation, although the role of this sign in clinical practice has been questioned.

A transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) is the most common type of echocardiogram, which is a still or moving image of the internal parts of the heart using ultrasound. In this case, the probe is placed on the chest or abdomen of the subject to get various views of the heart. It is used as a non-invasive assessment of the overall health of the heart, including a patient's heart valves and degree of heart muscle contraction. The images are displayed on a monitor for real-time viewing and then recorded.

Valvular heart disease Disease in the valves of the heart

Valvular heart disease is any cardiovascular disease process involving one or more of the four valves of the heart. These conditions occur largely as a consequence of aging, but may also be the result of congenital (inborn) abnormalities or specific disease or physiologic processes including rheumatic heart disease and pregnancy.

The apex beat of the heart, also called the apical impulse, is the pulse felt at the point of maximum impulse (PMI), which is the point on the precordium farthest outwards (laterally) and downwards (inferiorly) from the sternum at which the cardiac impulse can be felt. The cardiac impulse is the vibration resulting from the heart rotating, moving forward and striking against the chest wall during systole. The PMI is not the apex of the heart but is on the precordium not far from it.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to cardiology, the branch of medicine dealing with disorders of the human heart. The field includes medical diagnosis and treatment of congenital heart defects, coronary artery disease, heart failure, valvular heart disease and electrophysiology. Physicians who specialize in cardiology are called cardiologists.

Canine subvalvular aortic stenosis (SAS) is an abnormal, congenital heart murmur caused by subaortic stenosis (SAS). There is a high incidence of this condition identified in large and giant breed dogs like the Rottweiler, Newfoundland, Golden Retriever, Boxer, German Shepherd, English Bulldog, Great Dane, German Shorthaired Pointer, and Bouvier des Flandres.

The Gallavardin phenomenon is a clinical sign found in patients with aortic stenosis. It is described as the dissociation between the noisy and musical components of the systolic murmur heard in aortic stenosis. The harsh noisy component is best heard at the upper right sternal border radiating to the neck due to the high velocity jet in the ascending aorta. The musical high frequency component is best heard at the cardiac apex. The presence of a murmur at the apex can be misinterpreted as mitral regurgitation. However, the apical murmur of the Gallavardin phenomenon does not radiate to the left axilla and is accentuated by a slowing of the heart rate whereas the mitral regurgitation murmur does not change.

A parasternal heave, lift, or thrust is a precordial impulse that may be felt (palpated) in patients with cardiac or respiratory disease. Precordial impulses are visible or palpable pulsations of the chest wall, which originate on the heart or the great vessels.

The cardiovascular examination is a portion of the physical examination that involves evaluation of the cardiovascular system. The exact contents of the examination will vary depending on the presenting complaint but a complete examination will involve the heart, lungs, belly and the blood vessels.

Pressure overload Pathological state of cardiac muscle in which contraction occurs during excessive afterload

Pressure overload refers to the pathological state of cardiac muscle in which it has to contract while experiencing an excessive afterload. Pressure overload may affect any of the four chambers of the heart, though the term is most commonly applied to one of the two ventricles. Chronic pressure overload leads to concentric hypertrophy of the cardiac muscle, which can in turn lead to heart failure, myocardial ischaemia or, in extreme cases, outflow obstruction.


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