Heart Tests Your Doctor May Order
By Samuel Ventrella, MD, Cardiologist – Virtua Cardiology
Screenings are an important part in determining your heart health. Just like a mechanic looks under the hood and examines the tires and brakes to make sure your car is in good working order, your doctor performs tests to assess your risk of heart events and ensure your cardiovascular system is functioning as it should.
Routine screenings you should have include:
- Blood pressure. Everyone should get their blood pressure checked regularly starting at age 20. Ideal blood pressure is lower than 120/80 mm Hg.
- Cholesterol. Have your fasting cholesterol tested at least every four to six years starting at age 20. Cholesterol goals differ based on your history and risk factors.
- Glucose. High blood sugar levels put you at risk for diabetes. Begin testing every three years at age 45, or earlier if you have risk factors such as obesity.
Depending on your risk factors and/or symptoms, your doctor may recommend more detailed tests. These include:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG). This test records the electrical activity of your heart through electrodes attached to your skin. It can show abnormal rhythms, and suggest possible muscle damage. It is generally the first test performed.
- Echocardiogram. This ultrasound test assesses your heart's structure and function.
- Holter monitor. A small, portable, battery-powered EKG records your heart rate and rhythm over 24 to 48 hours. Patches and battery-size devices implanted just under the skin can monitor your heart for longer periods.
- Stress testing. Using electrodes applied to your chest, this test monitors your heart’s response as you walk on a treadmill. This can be combined with ultrasound or nuclear images of your heart for more accurate assessment. A stress test also may be performed with medication for people who are unable to walk on the treadmill.
- Coronary artery calcium scoring. A low-energy CT scan looks for calcium buildup in the arteries supplying oxygen-rich blood to your heart. This can be helpful in making decisions on treatments, such as cholesterol medications for individuals at intermediate risk of developing heart disease.
- Coronary angiography. Also known as cardiac catheterization, this is an invasive evaluation where small tubes called catheters are advanced through the body to directly image your arteries. It serves as a road map for treatments that can restore blood flow to blocked vessels.
- Cardiac MRI. An advanced scan without radiation which can assess multiple cardiac issues, such as scarring of the heart, abnormal deposits in the heart muscle, and assessment of heart strength.
Based on your risk factors or symptoms and the results of diagnostic tests, we will determine your most effective course of treatment. This may include lifestyle modifications, medications, and if necessary, interventional procedures.
Comprehensive heart care near you
Virtua’s team of more than 100 cardiac experts provides comprehensive cardiac care, from medical cardiology to interventional procedures to advanced cardiac surgery.
Updated September 8, 2021