Medical tests for heart disease
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Medical tests for heart disease

Learn about the common tests your doctor may want you to have to diagnose your heart condition.

The medical tests needed to diagnose your heart disease depend on what condition your doctor thinks you might have based on your symptoms (if any), risk factors and medical history.

Some of the most common medical tests performed for diagnosis of a heart condition are: 

Angiogram

Coronary angiogram

A coronary angiogram may be done during or after a heart attack or angina. It's sometimes called ‘cardiac catheterisation’.

A catheter (a small tube) is put into an artery in your groin, arm or wrist under local anaesthetic. The catheter is moved up inside the artery until it reaches your heart. You will not feel this.

A special dye is injected into your coronary arteries and an X-ray is taken. It may make you feel hot and flushed for a few seconds. The X-ray shows your doctor where and how much your coronary arteries are narrowed. It also shows how well your heart is pumping.

Coronary angiograms help your doctor decide the best treatment for you. Sometimes it is best to go straight on to coronary angioplasty while you are in the laboratory having a coronary angiogram and the tubes are in place. The cardiologist will discuss this option with you before the procedure and it is your choice whether to proceed.

MORE ON CORONARY ANGIOGRAMS

Coronary computed tomography angiogram (CCTA)

This is a type of computed tomography (CT) scan that can help diagnose coronary artery disease. It gives a 3-dimensional image of the heart chambers and coronary arteries supplying blood to the heart.

A CCTA is a non-invasive test for people who may be experiencing unusual cardiac symptoms

Blood tests

When your heart muscle has been damaged, as in a heart attack, your body releases substances in your blood. Blood tests can measure the levels of these substances and show if, and how much of, your heart has been damaged. 

The most common test after a heart attack checks levels of troponin in your blood. Blood tests are also done to measure the level of other substances in your blood, such as blood fats (e.g. cholesterol and triglycerides) and minerals.

MORE ON BLOOD TESTS

Blood pressure monitoring

Your doctor may arrange for you to wear a blood pressure monitor for 24 hours (during day-to-day activity and sleep). This light-weight, easy to wear monitor will help your doctor get accurate information about your blood pressure. Your doctor may ask you to measure and record your own blood pressure at home.

MORE ON MONITORING BLOOD PRESSURE

Chest X-ray

Using an X-ray, pictures are taken of the structure and organs inside your chest, like your heart, lungs and blood vessels.

They can show if there are signs of heart failure.

MORE ON CHEST X-RAYS

Echocardiogram (heart ultrasound)

An echocardiogram is a common test. It gives a picture of your heart using ultrasound. It uses a probe either on your chest or sometimes can be done down your oesophagus (throat).

It helps your doctor check if there are any problems with your heart’s valves and chambers, and see how strongly your heart pumps blood.

An echocardiogram performed before and after exercise is also used to detect areas of the heart where the blood supply through the coronary arteries to the heart muscle is reduced (see stress tests below).

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An ECG reads your heart's electrical impulses. Small sticky dots and wire leads are put on your chest, arms and legs. The leads are attached to an ECG machine which records the electrical impulses and prints them out on paper.

Your doctor may use an ECG to diagnose a heart attack or abnormal heart rhythms (called 'arrhythmias').

Electrophysiology studies

Electrophysiology studies use a computer to help find out about an abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia).

Special tubes (catheters) are inserted, via a vein in your leg, into your heart. The catheters record your heart's electrical activity and test its response to various stimuli. Your heart's electrical response to these stimuli helps doctors to determine the type and cause of your arrhythmia.

MRI

An MRI uses very strong magnets and radio waves to create detailed images of your heart on a computer. It can take still or moving pictures of your heart. It does not involve radiation and the main thing you will notice is a drumming noise while the scanning is being done.  

Sometimes a special dye is used to make parts of the heart and coronary arteries easier to see.

This test shows your doctor the structure of your heart and how well it is working, so they can decide the best treatment for you.

Stress tests

Stress tests help your doctor find out how well your heart works when you're physically active, using exercise machines (e.g. a treadmill).

Exercise stress test

This is an electrocardiogram (ECG) done while you exercise. The doctor checks your heart rate, heart rhythm and blood pressure.

The test will show how your heart works during exercise. Sometimes it’s called a treadmill test or exercise test.

Stress echocardiogram (stress echo)

A radioactive substance (a tracer) is injected into your bloodstream. The stress echo uses an ultrasound to detect differences in your heart’s chambers and valves and how strongly your heart beats when exercised, or when stressed using a medicine (e.g. dobutamine).

Nuclear cardiac stress test

This test is sometimes called an 'exercise thallium scan', a 'dual isotope treadmill' or an 'exercise nuclear scan'.

A tiny dose of a radioactive substance called a 'tracer' is injected into your bloodstream. It goes to your heart and releases energy. Special cameras take a picture of this energy from outside your body.

Your doctor uses this picture to see how much blood flows to your heart muscle and how well your heart pumps blood when you are resting and doing physical activity. This test also helps your doctor to see if your heart muscle is damaged.

Tilt tests

Doctors use tilt tests to see whether different body positions will trigger an abnormal heart beat (arrhythmia). They’re especially useful for investigating the hearts of people who faint without explanation.

Tip: Ask your doctor for information about any test you’re having, so you understand why you’re having it, and what's involved during and after the test.

You might also be interested in

Research shows if you have gum disease, you’re twice as likely to have heart disease.

Research shows if you have gum disease, you’re twice as likely to have heart disease.

Research shows if you have gum disease, you’re twice as likely to have heart disease.

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

What is angina?

What is angina?

What is angina?

Angina is a type of chest pain or discomfort that’s a symptom of an underlying heart problem, usually coronary heart disease (CHD)....

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Visit the St Vincents Hospital NSW and Heart Foundation Aboriginal heart health website for more information...

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Every day, 22 women lose their lives to this condition....

Learning that heart disease can strike at any age

Learning that heart disease can strike at any age

Learning that heart disease can strike at any age

What is atrial fibrillation?

What is atrial fibrillation?

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia where your heart beats irregularly and fast....

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

If you're 45 and over, or 30 and over if you're of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, you should book your Heart Health Check today...

Fit, active and healthy – Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack

Fit, active and healthy – Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack

Fit, active and healthy – Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack

Fit, active and healthy, Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack. However, after experiencing a ‘widow maker’, she counts herself lucky....

What is a cardiac arrest?

What is a cardiac arrest?

What is a cardiac arrest?

With immediate help a cardiac arrest can be survived. Learn how to save a life....

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Join our community of fundraisers who are committed to taking action to fight heart disease....

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Join the fight against Australia’s biggest killer by supporting the Heart Foundation.  ...

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Week

Heart Week

Heart Week

Support for young adults: Online events

Support for young adults: Online events

Support for young adults: Online events

A series of virtual events for young adults on managing emotional wellbeing. ...

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Feel healthier and happier in six weeks with a free Personal Walking Plan...

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

There is no single cause for any one heart condition, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing one. ...

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Visit the St Vincents Hospital NSW and Heart Foundation Aboriginal heart health website for more information...

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation programs and resources to support your recovery....

Trek for Australian Hearts

Trek for Australian Hearts

Trek for Australian Hearts

Join the Heart Foundation in South Australia for the journey of a lifetime, trekking the ancient Flinders Ranges to help save Australian hearts....

Aussie men among the world’s most obese, new data

Aussie men among the world’s most obese, new data

Aussie men among the world’s most obese, new data

Media Release - 16 November 2020...

5 warning signs of a heart attack that you may not know

5 warning signs of a heart attack that you may not know

5 warning signs of a heart attack that you may not know

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

Getting the right balance of fats in your diet can improve your heart health....

Absolute CVD risk assessment resources

Absolute CVD risk assessment resources

Resources and clinical information for health professionals...

Q&A with Lauren Blekkenhorst

Q&A with Lauren Blekkenhorst

Q&A with Lauren Blekkenhorst

Research to develop better evidence for the vascular and metabolic health benefits of vegetables and their bioactive constituents....

My health for life program

My health for life program

My health for life program

The Heart Foundation is a proud supporter of the Queensland My health for life program...

Donate to the Heart Foundation

Donate to the Heart Foundation

Donate to the Heart Foundation

Every dollar that you donate will help fund research, support and programs that help save lives....

Fit, active and healthy – Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack

Fit, active and healthy – Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack

Fit, active and healthy – Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack

Fit, active and healthy, Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack. However, after experiencing a ‘widow maker’, she counts herself lucky....

Heart Health Network

Heart Health Network

Heart Health Network

Heart Health Network is the Heart Foundation’s newsletter for health professionals delivered to your inbox once a month....

About the Lighthouse Hospital Project

About the Lighthouse Hospital Project

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in Australia, but the burden of disease disproportionately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples....

Heart-healthy drinks

Heart-healthy drinks

Heart-healthy drinks

While water is clearly the most heart-healthy drink, there are ther drinks that can be enjoyed in moderation. ...

Coronary Artery Calcium Score

Coronary Artery Calcium Score

A Coronary Artery Calcium Score or CT Calcium test can be used to estimate your risk of heart attack or stroke....

What is heart valve disease?

What is heart valve disease?

What is heart valve disease?

Heart valve disease means that your heart valve or valves don't open or close properly....

10 steps to protect your heart health

10 steps to protect your heart health

10 steps to protect your heart health

Ready to help your heart keep on beating? Here are 10 important ways to reduce your risk of heart disease for a healthier life.  ...

Order patient resources online

Order patient resources online

Search and order from our range of printed patient resources online. ...

Nutrition Evidence Summaries and Reviews

Nutrition Evidence Summaries and Reviews

Nutrition Evidence Summaries and Reviews

Do you have a Heart Story to share?

Do you have a Heart Story to share?

Do you have a Heart Story to share?

Sharing your story could help another Australian just like you to overcome their heart challenges...

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Try our Heart Age Calculator to understand what contributes to your risk of heart disease....

Celebrate the life of someone you love by giving to the Heart Foundation in their memory

Celebrate the life of someone you love by giving to the Heart Foundation in their memory

Celebrate the life of someone you love by giving to the Heart Foundation in their memory

How your heart works

How your heart works

How your heart works

Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood to all parts of your body. The blood gives your body the oxygen and nourishment it needs to work properly. ...