The Test That Detects Heart Trouble

Black tonometer and heart isolated on whiteHeart disease is the number one killer in America today. You may have heart disease or at risk due to your family history, high blood pressure, or other risk factors. Over the last two decades, a lot of new tests have come along to detect heart disease. These tests help you and your healthcare provider find problems early, learn about the type and amount of heart disease you have, and how to help you treat it. It’s important to detect heart disease as early as possible. This can help you prevent heart attack, stroke, or even death. It can also help you and your healthcare provider take actions to prevent further damage to your heart.


The test you’ll need to determine and treat your heart disease depends on the condition your healthcare provider thinks you have. Before your healthcare provider orders any heart tests, he or she will need to conduct some interview first and ask you about your medical and family history. He or she will alsolikely to perform a physical exam and/or refer you to a heart doctor (cardiologist) to see if you’re suitable to undergo such test. All of these steps help your healthcare provider learn how your heart is working and what actions to take to treat your condition.

Tests to diagnose heart disease may include:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • Echocardiogram
  • Stress Test
  • Cardiac Catheterization


An EKG is a recording of the electrical activity of your heart. Each heartbeat starts with this electrical activity. An EKG is a recording machine that can pick up these electrical signals and record them on paper. Several small wires that run to the recording machine are attached to your chest with a sticky gel. Each heartbeat makes wavy lines on the EKG. The EKG takes only a few seconds to do. The pattern of the EKG helps your healthcare provider diagnose heart disease. He or she can determine the location and amount of damage done by a heart attack. An EKG can also give important information about the effects of high blood pressure on your heart, abnormal heart rhythms, or heart defects you were born with. Either your healthcare provider or a cardiologist may do an EKG. If your healthcare provider detects a problem, he/she may refer you to a cardiologist for further tests.


An echocardiogram is a quick, safe, and painless test that uses sound waves to show how well your heart muscle and valves are working. A transducer (a tool that looks like a microphone) is used to bounce sound waves off your heart. A computer changes the sound waves into images. These images provide information about the status of your heart, such as how strongly your heart beats and whether or not anything is abnormal. An echocardiogram is usually done in a cardiologist’s office.


A stress test helps your healthcare provider find out whether or not you have heart disease. You are hooked up to an EKG machine and then observed as you walk on a treadmill. The treadmill gradually gets faster and steeper, increasing the workload on your heart. The professionals doing the test will coach you and closely monitor your EKG during the exercise.

There are several special types of stress tests that can be done depending on your situation. There are even stress tests for people who cannot walk at all on a treadmill. The stress test is done in a cardiologist’s office and takes about 45 minutes. An abnormal stress test may mean you have blockages in your heart. If the cardiologist believes that these tests show signs of heart disease, you may be asked to have a cardiac catheterization.


A cardiac catheterization (also called a coronary angiogram) is a test where a cardiologist takes pictures of the inside of the arteries of your heart. A cardiac catheterization is done in a hospital or an outpatient center in a special room with equipment designed just for this test. You don’t have to be admitted to the hospital for this test. With the special equipment, the cardiologist can see if you have any blockages, and in which arteries they are located.

The results of a cardiac catheterization show exactly which treatment is best for you. Sometimes, you will need to take some medicines to treat your condition. Sometimes, tiny balloons and stents will need to be put into the blocked arteries to open the blockages. And sometimes, heart bypass surgery is necessary.


There are a variety of reasons why your health care provider would suggest that you have any of these tests. It may be because you have had one or more of the following warning signs of a heart attack:

  • Chest pain with physical activity
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness
  • Pounding of the heart
  • Dizziness or fainting

Or maybe you don’t have typical symptoms, but you have one or more risk factors for heart disease. The following risk factors increase your chances of developing heart disease or having a heart attack or stroke:

  • Diabetes (both type 1 and type 2)
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Being overweight or obese
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Stress

You can control many of these risk factors for heart disease by choosing to eat healthy, being physically active, and quitting smoking (if you smoke). However, other risk factors can’t be changed, such as your family history. Take steps, one at a time, to change the risk factors you can control.

If you have any of the warning signs and/or risk factors for heart disease, talk to your healthcare provider and tell them your concerns about heart disease.

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