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

Invasive tests

Invasive tests require a doctor to insert a tube called a catheter into blood vessels in your body.

dplink.gif Heart Disease: Should I Have an Angiogram?

Questions to ask your doctor

Before you have a test, you can ask your doctor questions so that you can decide together if a test is right for you.

Questions that you might ask your doctor include:

  • "Why am I going to have this test?"
  • "Are there other tests that will give the same information? Do I have a choice of which test to have? Do I need more than one of these tests?"
  • "Will this test help you treat my problem? Will the test results change how I am being treated now?"
  • "How often is this test wrong? Could it say that I have a problem when I really don't?"
  • "What are the risks of this test?"
  • "What will happen if I don't have this test?"
  • "How much does this test cost?"

When should you say "no" to a test?

Heart tests help a lot when your doctor is trying to find out what's wrong, which treatment to use, or how well a certain treatment is working.

But experts say that sometimes heart tests aren't needed-even for heart patients. It may be okay to not have a test when everything is fine and you're just having a checkup. A test may not be helpful if your doctor doesn't have a specific reason for the test-for example, when you don't have heart disease or your treatment for heart disease does not need to change.

Here's what experts say about common heart tests that are sometimes ordered when they're not needed:

  • Routine electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG): You may see ads telling you that "screening" EKGs are a good way to protect your health. "Screening" means having a test when you don't have any symptoms. If you are healthy and have no symptoms of heart disease, you can say "no" to this test. And even if you are a heart patient, a routine EKG just isn't needed as long as you have no new symptoms and you see your doctor several times a year.
  • Exercise EKG: If you're healthy and have no symptoms of heart disease, you can say "no" to this test, often called a stress test or treadmill test. In younger people who don't have symptoms of heart disease, an exercise EKG can actually cause needless worry. This is because it can show that you have heart problems when you really don't.
  • Echo: An echocardiogram isn't recommended as a routine test if you are healthy, have no heart problems, and have a low risk for heart disease. If you have coronary artery disease, you probably don't need this test unless you have new symptoms. It's not helpful for patients with mild heart murmurs. But if you have certain heart problems, like a valve disease or heart failure, your doctor needs to check your heart regularly with this test.
  • Exercise echo: This test isn't recommended if you're healthy and have no symptoms of heart disease.
  • Imaging tests: An imaging test, such as a cardiac perfusion scan, is not recommended before a surgery that is not being done on your heart and has a low risk of problems. An example is a cataract surgery.
  • Calcium scan: This test isn't recommended if you don't have risk factors for heart disease or you are at high risk of heart disease. In either case, the test won't tell you and your doctor anything you don't already know. But if your risk is medium, the test may tell you whether you need to take action to prevent a heart attack in the next few years.
    Heart Disease Risk: Should I Have a Coronary Calcium Scan?

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 13, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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