There are many different tests a doctor can use when diagnosing heart disease. Which tests are used will depend on the specific condition the doctor is looking for or on the results of other tests.
A physical examination may be the first step. The doctor will check blood pressure and will listen to the heart. The physician will also check other areas of your body, such as your eyes, skin, arms, and legs, as these areas may show effects if you have any diseases of the heart.
Blood tests may be ordered to see if there is evidence of heart damage or any risks present for heart disease. A chest X-ray may also be ordered to see if the heart is enlarged.
An electrocardiogram (ECG) and a stress test may be ordered as well. An ECG can detect irregular heart rhythm. An ECG can be taken while at rest or after exercising on a treadmill for a certain amount of time, which is referred to as a stress test. This test shows how well the heart functions under exertion. If exercise cannot be performed due to other health concerns, a chemical can be induced into the body. This chemical forces the heart rate to increase as if it were under some form of exertion.
An echocardiogram is like an ultrasound of the heart. It can show images of the heart as it is beating so that the doctor can check for any abnormalities. If results are inconclusive, an ultrasound transmitter may be eased down the throat in order to get a better working image of the heart. This is referred to as a transesophageal ultrasound.
A cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan or cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used. The CT scan can check for heart failure or arrhythmia, but is not often used to make any other heart disease diagnoses. MRI can be very useful for a doctor to determine the cause of any heart disease.
When other tests are not conclusive, a heart catheter may be required. A tube can be placed to your heart through a blood vessel. The pressure in the heart can be tested and the doctor can check the valves in the heart for damage. A biopsy to check for inflammation in the heart may also be done at this time.