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Cardiovascular (Heart) Disease

Cardiovascular (Heart) Disease > What Is Heart Disease?

How Is Heart Disease Diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose heart disease in several ways, by:

  • Assessing your symptoms
  • Reviewing your medical history
  • Looking at your risk factors
  • Doing a physical exam

During your physical exam, your doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to your heart and lungs. To help check your blood flow, he or she may take your pulse at your neck, wrist, leg, or foot. Your doctor 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 can help your doctor learn more about your heart. They can show if there are any problems and what treatments you may need. Your doctor may order some of these tests to learn more about your heart.

  • Blood tests—Your doctor 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 doctor will explain what the blood tests mean and 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 doctor’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. It shows 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—Your doctor 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.

  • 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 doctor 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 doctor see blood flow and blockages.

If you’re concerned you may be at risk for heart disease, ask your doctor if any of these tests may be right for you.