How Is Heart Disease Diagnosed?

This section will tell you about the different ways your health care provider can diagnose heart disease. Your health care provider diagnoses heart disease in several ways:

  • Your symptoms
  • Your medical history
  • Your risk factors
  • A physical exam

During your physical exam, your health care provider uses a stethoscope to listen to your heart and lungs. To help check your blood flow, your health care provider may take your pulse at your neck, wrist, leg, or foot. Your health care provider will also take your blood pressure to see if it is at the right level or if it is too high.

There are laboratory tests that help your health care provider learn more about your heart. They can show if there are any problems and what treatments you may need. These are the laboratory tests that help your health care provider learn more about your heart:

  • Blood tests—Your health care provider will tell you which blood tests you need. Blood tests are done for many reasons. They can check your cholesterol and your blood sugar, for example. Your health care provider will explain what the blood tests mean. Your health care provider will also tell you what to do to prepare for them, such as fasting.
  • EKG also called ECG or electrocardiogram)—An EKG is a common test performed in your health care provider’s office or the hospital. It records the electrical activity of your heart. An EKG records your heart rate and rhythm.
  • Chest X-ray—A chest X-ray takes pictures of your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and other parts inside your chest. A chest X-ray can show signs of disease in any of these areas.
  • Echocardiogram—With an echocardiogram, or echo, a device is placed on your chest. It uses sound waves (ultrasound) to create a moving picture of your heart. They show the size, structure, and motion of the heart. This test can also show how the blood is flowing through your heart. It shows if there are damaged areas of your heart and how your heart is pumping.
  • Stress test, which may also include an echocardiogram or nuclear scan—Your health care provider may decide to order a stress test to check for heart and artery disease. A monitor, with electrodes placed on the skin of your chest, records your heart function while you exercise. Many things can be checked during this test. The stress test checks for:
    • Chest discomfort or pain
    • Heart rate
    • Blood pressure
    • Breathing
    • ECG/EKG changes
    • How tired you become during exercise

    There is a stress test called an imaging stress test. It takes pictures of your heart when you exercise and when you are resting. This test can show how well blood is flowing in various parts of your heart. It also shows how well your heart squeezes out blood when it beats, and if there are any damaged areas in your heart.

    Two common ways to perform an imaging stress test are:

    1. An echocardiogram or echo: This test uses a small device placed on your chest. It works by bouncing sound waves off your heart to create a moving picture.
    2. A nuclear test: This test uses radioactive tracers, which are injected into your vein to check blood flow to your heart muscle.
  • Cardiac catheterization—Cardiac catheterization is a type of heart test that is usually performed in the hospital. Cardiac catheterization can show if plaque buildup is blocking the arteries in your heart. This test also shows how the blood is flowing in and out of your heart.

    This test uses a catheter—a long, thin, and flexible tube. This tube is inserted into a blood vessel in your upper thigh or arm. Then it is threaded through your blood vessels to your heart. Your health care provider may put a special dye in the catheter. Once the dye reaches your heart, it will make the inside of your heart and arteries show up on an X-ray. This helps your health care provider see blood flow and blockages.

Your health care provider will decide which test may be right for you.

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