A doctor tests for heart disease

Testing for Heart Disease

Heart disease comes in several different forms. Arrhythmias, congenital defects, and coronary diseases are all different kinds. However, coronary heart disease (CHD) is the variety that is preventable and reversible.

Poor diet, obesity, smoking, and genetic factors can all cause problems in the heart by clogging veins, making blood flow more difficult and causing the heart to slowly weaken. As such, there are a variety of tests available to diagnose heart disease; which test your doctor will use is largely dependent on what the initial information gathered suggests may be going on in the heart.

Initial Information

The first step of diagnosing heart disease is always going to involve a physical exam and learning the patient's medical history. Blood tests can provide additional useful information. X-rays of the chest are commonly performed; this can show enlargement of the heart and other problematic things. From this point, the doctor should use the obtained information to decide on additional testing.

Electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG)

An ECG may be performed during rest, or a stress ECG may be done while the patient is exercising. Wires are attached to specific spots on the patient, and electrical activity of the body is then recorded. An ECG will record heartbeat rapidity and rhythm, as well as how strong and often electrical signals are passing through the heart. This can detect arrhythmias, heart attacks, and other diseases through a comparison basis. Sometimes it may be necessary for the ECG to go on for a day or more. A holter monitor records ECG information as well as additional irregularities that might not show up on a standard ECG, because of its portability.

Cardiac Catheterization

If a physician suspects there may be an abnormality in the blood flow, vessels, or valves of the heart, they may opt for cardiac catheterization. This involves threading a long, hollow tube (catheter) through one of the large arm or leg arteries up to the heart while x-raying the chest to guide movement. Dye may be sent into the heart to allow better viewing of blood flow. It can also measure the pressure of the atria and ventricles (the top and bottom chambers of the heart).

Imaging Tests

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) creates detailed pictures of organs. The machine is essentially a large tube that uses magnetism and radio waves to form sectional 3D images of the body’s soft tissue rather than simply forming black and white shots the way an x-ray does. A cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan is similar to an x-ray, but more detailed. The machine is shaped like a large life preserver and moves around the body in a circle while the patient lies in the center to take detailed pictures of the heart, which are then combined to create a 3D image. A CT angiography involves injecting an iodine-based dye into the bloodstream to highlight the arteries. Coronary heart disease, aneurysms, and abnormalities with the heart or its valves can all be seen with the use of CT. 

Last Updated: April 18, 2018