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Noninvasive heart tests
Diagnosing a heart problem doesn't always involve surgery or an invasive procedure. There are a number of noninvasive tests that can help your doctor learn more about how your heart is functioning. Here are five such tests.
What it does: A chest x-ray takes a picture of the heart, lungs and chest bones.
Why you might need it: An x-ray can be used to help assess symptoms (such as shortness of breath or chest pain) that may be caused by a problem with the heart or lungs. For example, it can show if the heart is enlarged or if there's fluid building up in the lungs due to a heart attack.
Computed tomography (CT) scan
What it does: A cardiac CT scan uses x-rays to make 3-D pictures of the heart.
Why you might need it: CT scans help evaluate the health of your arteries and can show things like tears, blockages caused by calcium deposits, inflammation and tumors.
What it does: This ultrasound test uses sound waves to create moving pictures of the heart.
Why you might need it: Echocardiography can show the heart's structures and how well they work. For example, the test can help your doctor learn more about abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).
Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG)
What it does: This test records the heart's electrical activity. It may be done in a medical office or your provider may have you wear a portable device (such as a Holter monitor) that records your heart's electrical activity during your regular routine.
Why you might need it: Electrocardiography can show if you have an arrhythmia. It can also determine if you've had a heart attack—or help predict a future heart attack.
Exercise stress test
What it does: A stress test looks at how the heart functions under an increased workload. The test monitors your heart function while you walk in place on a treadmill. Sometimes a radioactive tracer is injected into the bloodstream to help measure blood-flow into the heart muscle with imaging.
Why you might need it: A stress test can help diagnose coronary artery disease or show what's causing symptoms like chest pain. Your doctor may also use a stress test to show what level of exercise is safe for you or to help show if you're at risk for a heart attack or other problem.
Learn the anatomy of the heart
This interactive infographic will show you the different parts of the heart and what they do.
Sources: American Heart Association; Radiological Society of North America; UpToDate
- American Heart Association. "Exercise Stress Test." https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/diagnosing-a-heart-attack/exercise-stress-test.
- American Heart Association. "Holter Monitor." https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/diagnosing-a-heart-attack/holter-monitor.
- American Heart Association. "Non-invasive tests and procedures." https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/diagnosing-a-heart-attack/noninvasive-tests-and-procedures.
- RadiologyInfo. "Cardiac (Heart) Screening." https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info/screening-cardiac.
- RadiologyInfo. "Chest X-ray (Radiography)." https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info/chestrad.
- UpToDate. "Ambulatory ECG Monitoring." https://www.uptodate.com/contents/ambulatory-ecg-monitoring.