Heart Attack Diagnosis

Diagnosis and treatment of a heart attack can begin when emergency personnel arrive after you call emergency services. Do not put off calling emergency services because you are not sure that you are having a heart attack. Call within 5 minutes of the start of symptoms.

At the hospital emergency room, doctors will work fast to find out if you are having or have had a heart attack. They will consider your symptoms, medical and family history, and test results. Initial tests will be quickly followed by treatment if you are having a heart attack.

Tests used in diagnosing a heart attack include an electrocardiogram, blood tests, nuclear heart scan, cardiac catheterization, and coronary angiography. The electrocardiogram, also known as ECG or EKG, is used to measure the rate and regularity of your heartbeat.

Blood tests are also used in diagnosing a heart attack. When cells in the heart die, they release enzymes into the blood. They are called markers or biomarkers. Measuring the amount of these markers in the blood can show how much damage was done to your heart. Doctors often repeat these tests to check for changes.

The nuclear heart scan uses radioactive tracers to outline the heart chambers and major blood vessels leading to and from the heart. A nuclear heart scan shows any damage to your heart muscle as well as how well blood flows to and from the heart.

In cardiac catheterization, a thin, flexible tube is passed through an artery in your groin or arm to reach the coronary arteries. This test allows your doctor to

  • determine blood pressure and flow in the heart's chambers
  • collect blood samples from the heart, and
  • examine the arteries of the heart by x-ray.

Coronary angiography is usually done with the cardiac catheterization. A dye that can be seen on an x-ray is injected through the catheter into the coronary arteries. It shows where there are blockages and how severe they are.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jul 31, 2009

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