I am
Show me:
Show me:
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Learn about heart disease.

You might also be interested in

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 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....

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 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...

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....

Heart health information in your language

Heart health information in your language

A selection of heart health information brochures in a range languages...

What is coronary heart disease?

What is coronary heart disease?

What is coronary heart disease?

Coronary heart disease (CHD) or coronary artery disease occurs when a coronary artery clogs and narrows because of a buildup of plaque....

Mental health and heart disease

Mental health and heart disease

Mental health and heart disease

Having a mental health condition can have a negative impact on your heart health and increase your risk of heart disease....

What is heart disease?

What is heart disease?

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is the broad term for conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart muscle. ...

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. ...

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....

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Join the Heart Foundation community. Together, we can make a real difference for Australian hearts. ...

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Full list of clinical guidlines and references for CVD, heart failure, ACS, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, SCAD and RHD...

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

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

Support and resources for health care professionals

Support and resources for health care professionals

Support and resources for health care professionals

Our range of clinical and patient support resources are available for you to use in your daily practice....

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.  ...

Fats, oils and heart health

Fats, oils and heart health

Fats, oils and heart health

Get the right balance of healthy fats in your diet ...

Key Statistics: Heart Failure

Key Statistics: Heart Failure

Atrial fibrillation resources for patients

Atrial fibrillation resources for patients

The NSW Cardiac Rehabilitation Working Group

The NSW Cardiac Rehabilitation Working Group

Heart conditions in women

Heart conditions in women

Heart conditions in women

Like men, women can be diagnosed with a range of heart conditions....

Cardiac rehabilitation information for health professionals

Cardiac rehabilitation information for health professionals

Useful cardiac rehabilitation resources for health professionals....

Life changing research currently underway

Life changing research currently underway

Life changing research currently underway

Search our current researcher's and the ground breaking research being undertaken....

Healthy eating to protect your heart

Healthy eating to protect your heart

Healthy eating to protect your heart

What does a heart-friendly diet look like?...

Managing your funding

Managing your funding

Managing your funding

Resources to help manage your grant, scholarship or fellowship....

Absolute CVD risk assessment practical update webinar

Absolute CVD risk assessment practical update webinar

A multidisciplinary panel of experts discuss the practical application of absolute CVD risk assessment through Heart Health Checks....

Benefits of physical activity for your heart

Benefits of physical activity for your heart

Benefits of physical activity for your heart

Physical activity and exercise can do wonders for your physical and mental health....

Absolute CVD risk calculator

Absolute CVD risk calculator

The Absolute CVD risk calculator estimates the likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years....

The one that took Jan’s breath away

The one that took Jan’s breath away

The one that took Jan’s breath away

Open heart surgery to treat damaged heart valves has improved Jan's overall health....

Why are you playing this game? It’s putting your heart at risk.

Why are you playing this game? It’s putting your heart at risk.

Why are you playing this game? It’s putting your heart at risk.

The game is “hide and seek”. You play it without even realising. The shock is that when you play this game, you could be placing your heart health at risk....

Get started with more physical activity

Get started with more physical activity

Get started with more physical activity

Finding time for physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your heart...

Our history

Our history

Our history

For more than 60 years the Heart Foundation has been helping improve heart health across the nation....

Become a corporate partner

Become a corporate partner

Become a corporate partner

Partner with us to help us fight for Australian hearts....

Lipid management clinical information and resources

Lipid management clinical information and resources

Lipid management resources for health professionals...

Advocating for healthy hearts throughout Australia

Advocating for healthy hearts throughout Australia

We're addressing the disparities in heart health so all Australians can live longer, healthier lives....

Philanthropic investments

Philanthropic investments

Philanthropic investments

Making philanthropic investments through the Heart Foundation can transform Australians’ health. ...

My Heart, My Life Mobile App

My Heart, My Life Mobile App

A mobile app to help you manage your heart health....

End of Financial Year Tax Receipt

End of Financial Year Tax Receipt

End of Financial Year Tax Receipt

Looking to claim your donations in your tax return this financial year?...

What is cardiac rehab?

What is cardiac rehab?

What is cardiac rehab?

Cardiac rehab is proven to keep you out of hospital and reduce your risk of death from heart conditions....