Diagnosing Heart Disease

Modern diagnostic tests help doctors determine whether or not a patient has heart or vascular disease, and if so, the severity level of the disease. Some of the tests produce pictures of the heart. Some tests are more reliable than others, especially for detecting coronary artery disease. Doctors decide which tests are best for each patient based on symptoms, medical history, and disease history.

During an initial physical examination, doctors ask for detailed medical history information and perform these basic tests:

  • They listen to the heart with a stethoscope (auscultation). Some types of heart valve disease are diagnosed by listening to abnormal heart sounds through the stethoscope.
  • They take blood pressure readings using a blood pressure cuff (a sphygmomanometer). Blood pressure readings measure the two parts of blood pressure: systolic and diastolic.
  • They may take chest x-rays to see the outline, or silhouette, of the heart. This may show an unusual shape or a heart that is larger than normal.

Further, the tests listed below are usually performed on an outpatient basis (no overnight stay in the hospital). More invasive tests may be necessary if heart disease is diagnosed. Click on the tests below to read more about them.

• Angiography
• Cardiac Catheterization
Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging (Cardiac MRI)
Computed Tomography (CT scan)
• Echocardiography
• Stress Echocardiography
• Transesophageal Echocardiography (TEE)
• Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
• Electrophysiology Studies (EPS)
• Exercise Stress Test
• Gated Blood Pool Scan (MUGA)
• Holter Monitoring
Intravascular Ultrasound (IVUS)/Intravascular Echocardiography
• Nuclear (Thallium) Stress Test
Positron Emission Tomography (PET Scan)
• Screening for Valve Disease

Updated December 2009