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Heart Tests You Should Know About

October 04, 2019



Heart Tests You Should Know About

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, but it can be difficult to know if you’re at risk. A heart attack, stroke or other severe health event can be the first sign of problems, and that can be too late. So, doctors have a range of tests for heart disease to help them understand your potential risk factors. These heart tests range from simple measurements and blood tests to more invasive procedures that can require anesthesia.

Physical Assessments

Heart disease often doesn’t present physical symptoms you’d recognize. However, some conditions can be signs of an underlying problem. You should see a doctor — or visit an emergency room — right away if you have any of the following possible symptoms of heart disease:

  • Fainting
  • Slow or fast heartbeat
  • Chest tightness
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden swelling in your legs, feet ankles or abdomen

Otherwise, your annual physical exam often includes some basic assessments aimed at preventing heart disease. These include:

  • Blood pressure measurement. This is one of the most important heart disease tests, because high blood pressure can lead to heart disease and stroke.
  • Body weight. Comparing your body weight to your height and waist circumference can help determine your body mass index (BMI). A high BMI can indicate obesity, which can put you at higher risk of heart disease.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG). This is a short test using electrical leads taped to your torso to measure your heart’s electrical activity. It can detect an irregular heart beat or heart damage.

Blood Tests

There also are a number of common blood tests that can help in preventing heart disease. These tests can highlight possible risks when there are no other apparent heart disease symptoms.

  • Fasting lipoprotein profile. This test measures your total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, and triglycerides, which are a type of fat. Too much LDL cholesterol can put you at higher risk of both heart attack and stroke.
  • Blood glucose. Blood glucose is also called “blood sugar.” High levels mean you’re at higher risk of developing insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. If untreated, diabetes also can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Advanced Tests for Heart Disease

If the more common tests above indicate you’re at higher risk of heart disease, your doctor might suggest more advanced heart tests. These can include:

  • Stress test. This is like an EKG, except it’s performed while you’re exercising on a stationary bike or treadmill. It helps doctors see how your heart responds when it’s under stress.
  • Carotid ultrasound. This test uses sound waves from a handheld wand to create images of the carotid arteries on both sides of your neck. The results show whether plaque is building up in your arteries, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
  • Coronary calcium. In this test, a standard CT scan machine takes an image of your heart to measure how much calcium has built up in the plaque in your arteries. Higher calcium levels are linked to coronary heart disease.
  • Heart CT Scan. This is also called a coronary CT angiogram. You’ll be given a beta blocker to slow your heart rate. Then an IV line will be used to insert radioactive dye into your arteries. A CT scan machine will track the dye to highlight areas of the heart that aren’t receiving good blood flow.
  • Cardiac catheterization. This is an invasive heart test. A flexible tube is inserted into a blood vessel in your groin or other area and moved toward your heart. It might be accompanied with a coronary angiography, which injects a dye into your heart’s blood vessels. An X-ray is then used to identify narrowed or blocked arteries.