The New Heart Tests: Which Ones Should You Have?

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on December 26, 2013
3 min read

Researchers are developing new ways to check your heart health. Two tests are available now; an interesting third is on the horizon.

This blood test checks 23 genes to suggest whether or not you have heart disease. It may help doctors need fewer tests that have more risks, including angiograms, one study shows. It takes 3 days to get your results.

Who should have it? In research studies, people with chest pain and without diabetes were tested. It's not a commonly recommended test.

Pros: Some insurers will cover the cost. All it takes is a small blood sample.

Cons: If your insurer doesn't cover the cost, it may set you back about $1,200.

This blood test for diabetes isn't new, but the idea of using it to check for heart disease in people with diabetes or prediabetes is new.

The A1c is a measure of blood sugar levels over the last 3 to 4 months. An A1c around or below 7% has been shown to lessen the complications of diabetes that can damage arteries. If you can lower your A1c soon after you're diagnosed with diabetes, you may also lower your long-term chances of developing coronary artery disease.

Who should get it? People with diabetes. The test should be done two times a year if your blood sugar is well-controlled, four times a year if it isn't.

Pros: You can get this done as a routine blood test. Unlike the oral glucose tolerance test, another common diabetes test, you don't have to fast beforehand or make a special trip to the lab.

Cons: Some studies show the A1c test may not work well in all cases.

This test is similar to a carotid ultrasound. That test uses sound waves to detect blockages in the carotid artery, the main artery that supplies blood to the brain. A plaque scan uses complex software to measure the thickness of the lining of the carotid artery.

"An increase in the thickness of the lining indicates the patient is at higher cardiovascular risk, even if no … plaque is present," says Mark F. Sasse, MD. He's an associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.

Who should get it? "The plaque scan is a very new technology," says Sasse. "I suspect it is many years away from it being used in the clinical arena." Tests like this are typically for patients with medium risk and a strong family history of early-onset heart disease, he says.

Pros: Early detection. The test allows doctors to spot thicknesses in the artery lining much earlier. That might lead your doctor to prescribe a statin medication to help lower blood cholesterol and prevent plaque buildup.

Cons: The test isn't yet available to the public.