Doctors use heart tests to diagnose or monitor different heart conditions. They include blood tests, electrocardiograms, echocardiograms, and coronary angiograms.

Doctors use these tests to diagnose and monitor heart diseases. Some tests reveal issues that might lead to heart diseases in the future.

Doctors will help decide which tests are suitable for a person according to their symptoms, risk factors, and medical history.

This article will look at some of the most common types of heart tests. It will explain how they work and what they look for.

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Doctors recommend heart tests for different reasons. A person may have symptoms of a heart condition, such as:

Sometimes, doctors will suggest a heart test if the person has a high risk of developing a heart condition. This may be because others in their family have heart disease. It could also be because they have heart disease risk factors, such as:

Below are some common types of heart tests.

Learn more about heart disease.

There are several blood tests for heart diseases. They include:

  • Cardiac troponin test: Doctors use a cardiac troponin test to help diagnose a heart attack. Troponin is a protein in the heart. If damage occurs to the heart, it sends troponin into the bloodstream.
  • Lipid profile: Doctors use this test to measure cholesterol levels in the blood. A high amount of low-density lipoproteins, or “bad” cholesterol, can lead to heart diseases.
  • Thyroid function tests: Doctors use thyroid function tests to check how the thyroid gland is working. This gland produces a hormone called thyroxine into the blood. If levels of the hormone are too high or too low, it can cause a slow or fast heartbeat and may lead to palpitations.
  • Complete blood count: Doctors use this test to look at the concentrations of different types of blood cells someone has in their blood. Low blood counts can cause similar symptoms to a heart condition.
  • B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP): This test measures levels of a protein called BNP in the blood. If the heart has to work harder to pump blood, it creates more BNP, so higher levels may indicate heart failure.

Doctors often call an electrocardiogram an ECG or an EKG. The test measures the heart’s electrical activity through pads on the chest. The procedure is painless.

Doctors use an EKG to determine whether a person’s heart is beating at an expected rate and rhythm. This test can provide clues about a person’s heart size and health and helps doctors diagnose:

Exercise EKG

An exercise EKG is a type of stress test a doctor carries out while a person walks on a treadmill or cycles on an exercise bike. It tells the doctor how the person’s heart works when they are exerting themselves.

Doctors use an exercise EKG to diagnose coronary artery disease (CAD) or to check the success of heart procedures, such as coronary angioplasty.

Learn more about EKGs for CAD.

An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart. Doctors use it to understand the structure of the person’s heart and to see how well it functions.

During an echocardiogram, doctors look at:

  • the size and movement of the heart’s walls
  • how the heart moves
  • how strongly the heart pumps
  • the heart valves
  • whether the person has regurgitation, meaning the blood is moving backward through the heart valves
  • whether someone has stenosis, meaning their heart valves are too narrow
  • potential tumors around the heart valves
  • whether the person has an infection or growth around the heart valves

Learn more about echocardiograms.

Doctors also call a nuclear stress test a myocardial perfusion imaging test. It uses very small amounts of radioactive materials to capture images of the heart. This shows doctors how well blood flows through this organ.

Healthcare professionals will use a nuclear stress test to:

  • look for narrowing and blockages in the arteries that may be causing discomfort
  • look for signs of damage after a heart attack
  • determine whether a person should have a coronary stent or bypass surgery
  • see whether stent or bypass surgery is working
  • determine whether a person should have a coronary angiogram
  • see how well someone’s heart handles exercise

People may be at rest or exercising when doctors carry out the test.

Learn more about a nuclear stress test.

Doctors sometimes call a coronary angiogram a cardiac catheterization. The test, a type of X-ray, uses a special dye to show doctors how blood flows in the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that take blood to the heart.

Doctors use the test to look for a narrowing in the arteries and to diagnose CAD.

Learn more about coronary angiography.

Doctors will sometimes suggest a chest X-ray to determine if the heart or the lungs are causing symptoms such as shortness of breath.

Sometimes, doctors may also recommend a chest X-ray for people preparing for heart surgery.

Learn more about X-rays.

Cardiac MRIs use magnetic fields, radio waves, and a computer to take detailed pictures of the heart.

Doctors use these tests to diagnose and monitor heart diseases. They may also recommend this test to look for heart defects.

Learn more about MRIs.

Cardiac event monitors are devices that record a person’s heartbeat over longer periods or specifically when they are having a symptom or “event.”

Doctors recommend cardiac event monitors to help diagnose heart rhythm problems that only occur infrequently.

There are several types of cardiac event monitors, including the below.

Looping memory monitor

A person wears electrodes on their chest that connect to this monitor using wires. When they have a heart symptom, they can push a button to record their heart activity. The device stores their EKG readings for the period before and during their symptoms.

Symptom event monitor

A person either holds these devices or wears them on their wrist. The monitors have small metal disks on the back that work like electrodes. For handheld devices, a person places the monitor on their chest when they feel a symptom and press record. If the device is on the wrist, they simply press the record button when they feel symptoms occurring.

A symptom event monitor only begins recording once a person presses the record button, so it will not record any previous heart activity.

Implantable loop recorder (ILR)

This is a small device that cardiologists implant in a person’s chest to monitor and record their heart rhythm over a longer period. Older ILRs are around the size of a USB stick, but newer versions look more like a thick matchstick.

An ILR begins recording when it detects a person’s heart beating atypically. Someone can also initiate recording by placing a handheld device over the ILR when they are experiencing heart symptoms, such as palpitations or a dizzy spell.

Learn more about an implantable loop recorder.

A tilt-table test measures how a person’s blood pressure and heart rate respond to gravity. The individual will lie on a special table, and the healthcare team will tilt it while measuring their blood pressure and heart rate.

Doctors usually suggest a tilt-table test to find out why people faint or feel lightheaded.

During an EP study, the doctor inserts a small tube, or catheter, into a blood vessel that leads to the heart.

This allows them to check the heart’s electrical activity. The test will take place in a special room called an EP lab or a catheterization lab.

Doctors will use an EP study to find out where an arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, is coming from within the heart. This helps them decide on the best treatment.

People with symptoms of a heart condition should speak with a doctor as soon as they can.

Below is advice for recognizing and dealing with a suspected heart attack.

Is it a heart attack?

Heart attacks occur when there is a lack of blood supply to the heart. Symptoms include:

  • chest pain, pressure, or tightness
  • pain that may spread to arms, neck, jaw, or back
  • nausea and vomiting
  • sweaty or clammy skin
  • heartburn or indigestion
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing or wheezing
  • lightheadedness or dizziness
  • anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack

If someone has these symptoms:

  1. Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
  2. Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.

If a person stops breathing before emergency services arrive, perform manual chest compressions:

  1. Lock fingers together and place the base of hands in the center of the chest.
  2. Position shoulders over hands and lock elbows.
  3. Press hard and fast, at a rate of 100–120 compressions per minute, to a depth of 2 inches.
  4. Continue these movements until the person starts to breathe or move.
  5. If needed, swap over with someone else without pausing compressions.

Use an automated external defibrillator (AED) available in many public places:

  1. An AED provides a shock that may restart the heart.
  2. Follow the instructions on the defibrillator or listen to the guided instructions.
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Heart diseases are the leading cause of death in the United States, causing around 1 in 5 deaths.

However, the outlook depends on the type of heart disease a person has. Many people can reserve or control their condition with lifestyle changes and medicines. Additionally, most individuals with a heart condition will need to speak with their healthcare team regularly.

There are many different heart tests. Doctors will choose an appropriate test according to the person’s symptoms and risk factors.

Some tests help doctors diagnose a heart condition or spot issues that could cause problems in the future.

Others monitor the success of surgery or how well a medication is working.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of a heart condition should consult a doctor who will order tests to determine the issue.