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Heart Tests: When Do You Need Them? - Topic Overview

Heart tests can help your doctor find out if you are at risk for a heart problem, if you have a heart problem, and what treatment you need.

There are many heart tests. Most are noninvasive, which means that your doctor does not insert a device into your body for the test. Many of the tests provide still or moving images of your heart and blood vessels.

These tests help doctors find out what's causing new symptoms, such as discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath, or irregular heartbeats. They can also help your doctor:

  • Check your heart's electrical system.
  • Check your pacemaker or other implanted device.
  • See if your heart can handle more exercise.
  • Check how well your heart valves are working.
  • Look for problems with the structure of your heart.

Heart tests can be appropriate for a healthy person. This happens when a personal history or physical exam points to risk for a heart problem.

You may have the chance to help decide if a test is right for you. Talk with your doctor to make that decision.

Noninvasive tests

Noninvasive tests do not require a doctor to insert a device into your body. You may need an injection of a medicine during the test. Many of these tests are imaging tests that provide still or moving pictures of your heart.

  • Cardiac blood pool scanCardiac blood pool scan
    • Makes pictures of the heart
    • Shows how well your heart is pumping blood to your body
    • Checks the size of heart chambers
    • Checks for problems with blood flow or structure of the heart
  • Cardiac CT scanCardiac CT scan
    • Makes pictures of the heart and blood vessels
    • Checks for coronary artery disease
    • Checks for problems with blood vessels and heart valves
    • Checks for problems with the structure of the heart
  • Cardiac MRI scanCardiac MRI scan
    • Makes still pictures and moving pictures of the heart
    • Checks the pumping action of the heart
    • Checks for problems with the structure of the heart
  • Cardiac perfusion scanCardiac perfusion scan
    • Makes pictures of blood flow to the heart muscle
    • Checks for coronary artery disease
    • Checks for damage caused by a heart attack
  • Coronary calcium scanCoronary calcium scan
    • Makes pictures of the walls of coronary arteries
    • Checks for calcium in coronary arteries
    • Helps your doctor find out your risk for a heart attack, especially when you are at medium risk
  • EchocardiogramEchocardiogram
    • Makes moving pictures of the heart
    • Helps find the cause of unexplained chest pain or pressure, or shortness of breath
    • Checks for signs of diseases that affect the walls and chambers of the heart
    • Checks how well your heart is pumping blood
    • Checks how well valves are working
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG)Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG)
    • Checks your heart's electrical system and heart rhythm
    • Finds out if chest pain or pressure is caused by a heart attack or angina
    • Checks how well your pacemaker or other implanted device is working
  • Exercise EKGExercise EKG
    • Checks for abnormal changes in your heart during exercise
    • Helps find the cause of unexplained chest pain or pressure
    • Makes sure your heart is healthy enough for physical activity
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