Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Heart Tests: When Do You Need Them?
Heart tests can help your doctor find out if you are at risk for a heart problem, if you have a heart problem, and what treatment you need.
There are many heart tests. Most are noninvasive, which means that your doctor does not insert a device into your body for the test. Many of the tests provide still or moving images of your heart and blood vessels.
These tests help doctors find out what's causing new symptoms, such as discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath, or irregular heartbeats. They can also help your doctor:
Heart tests can be appropriate for a healthy person. This happens when a personal history or physical exam points to risk for a heart problem.
You can help decide if a test is right for you. Talk with your doctor to make that decision.
Noninvasive tests do not require a doctor to insert a device into your body.
You may need an injection of a medicine during the test. Many of these tests are imaging tests that provide still or moving pictures of your heart.
Invasive tests require a doctor to insert a tube called a catheter into blood vessels in your body.
Before you have a test, you can ask your doctor questions so that you can decide together if a test is right for you.
Questions that you might ask your doctor include:
Heart tests help a lot when your doctor is trying to find out what's wrong, which treatment to use, or how well a certain treatment is working.
But experts say that sometimes heart tests aren't needed—even for heart patients. It may be okay to not have a test when everything is fine and you're just having a checkup. A test may not be helpful if your doctor doesn't have a specific reason for the test—for example, when you don't have heart disease or your treatment for heart disease does not need to change.
Here's what experts say about common heart tests that are sometimes ordered when they're not needed:
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Other Works Consulted
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Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.
Chou R, et al. (2011). Screening asymptomatic adults with resting or exercise electrocardiography: A review of the evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Annals of Internal Medicine, 155(6): 375–385.
Daubert MA, et al. (2011). Computed tomography of the heart. In V Fuster et al., eds., Hurst’s The Heart, 13th ed., vol. 1, pp. 599–630. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Gibbons RJ, et al. (2002). ACC/AHA 2002 guideline update for exercise testing: Summary article. A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Committee to Update the 1997 Exercise Testing Guidelines). Circulation, 106(14): 1883–1892.
Greenland P, et al. (2007). ACCF/AHA 2007 clinical expert consensus document on coronary artery calcium scoring by computed tomography in global cardiovascular risk assessment and in evaluation of patients with chest pain. Circulation, 115(3): 402–426.
Maron BJ, et al. (2007). Recommendations and considerations related to preparticipation screening for cardiovascular abnormalities in competitive athletes: 2007 Update: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism: Endorsed by the American College of Cardiology Foundation. Circulation, 115(12): 1643–1655.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2009). Using nontraditional risk factors in coronary heart disease risk assessment. Available online: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspscoronaryhd.htm.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2012). Screening for coronary heart disease with electrocardiography: Recommendation statement. Available online: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspsacad.htm.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerRakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, ElectrophysiologyE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerRobert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology
Current as ofAugust 7, 2015
Current as of:
August 7, 2015
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology
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