Heart Attack | Diagnosis & Tests

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How is heart attack diagnosed?

You may need several tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG, or sometimes called “EKG”): Your doctor will want you to have an ECG. This test records the electrical activity of your heart. It can help diagnose heart rhythm problems or any damage that the decrease in blood flow may have caused to your heart.
  • Blood tests: Your doctor will probably order blood tests to help diagnose your symptoms. When not enough blood flows to the heart, special proteins leak into the blood system. A simple blood test can detect these proteins. Your doctor will probably want to test your blood several times during the first 24 hours to 48 hours after yours symptoms start.

Other tests your doctor may want you to have include:

  • Echocardiogram: This test sends out sound waves that allow your doctor to get pictures of your heart. The pictures show your doctor how well your heart is pumping. It can also show if there are problems with your heart valves.
  • Chest X-ray: This test allows your doctor to evaluate the size and shape of your heart. It also shows if there is any congestion (fluid) in your lungs.
  • Nuclear imaging: This test involves injecting a very small amount of a radioactive substance into your blood. This substance travels to your heart. Then, a special camera or scanner uses the radioactive substance to produce pictures that show how well your heart is pumping. The radioactive substance is safe and leaves your body completely after the test is finished.
  • Coronary angiography: This test is sometimes called cardiac catheterization. In this test, a long tube is inserted into a blood vessel. The tube is guided to the heart or arteries that carry blood to the heart. Then, a substance is injected into the tube. This substance is visible by X-ray. It allows your doctor to see where the blockage that caused the decrease in blood flow to your heart is located.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff. Portions of this article were written by Susan D. Housholder, RN, MSN, ANP-BC, FAHA.

Reviewed/Updated: 03/14
Created: 09/10

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