Ask the doctor: What heart tests do I need before surgery for something else?

Ask the doctor

What heart tests do I need before surgery for something else?

Q. I have chest pain about once a month. Since it happens so infrequently and has been going on for years, my doctor says I don't need anything other than medicine to keep it under control. Now I need to have two operations, one to fix my cataracts and another to remove part of my colon. Should I start worrying about these heart pains?

A. Your question — Do I need to have my heart checked before having surgery for something else? — is extremely common. It is also a difficult one for cardiologists and internists to answer.

Virtually every operation can affect the heart. That's even true for those that don't go anywhere near the chest, such as cosmetic surgery or hip replacement. The odds that noncardiac surgery will affect the heart are generally quite small. But they aren't zero, even for the healthiest individual, and they creep upward with a variety of conditions.

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