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Test descriptions

You may have one or more of the following tests.

Did you know?

A test that uses sound waves to create images of your heart is completely safe.

No surgery or injections are needed. This is called a non-invasive procedure.

For some patients with images that are hard to see, a contrast agent (or dye) may be used. It is given through an intravenous (IV) line in your hand or arm. The procedure is still safe and still non-invasive.

Angiogram (or cardiac catheterization)

An angiogram (or cardiac catheterization) allows your doctor to see how well your heart pumps blood through the arteries. The test is used to determine if there are areas of narrowing or blockage.

A catheter (small, thin tube), will be inserted through a blood vessel in your arm or leg. An X-ray dye (contrast) will be injected to allow the X-ray to "see" your arteries. The test takes about 45 minutes.

arrow points to link to more clinical trials informationMore about angiograms

Blood tests

Your doctor may want to take blood samples at various times.

Cardiac CT (computed tomography) for calcium scoring

A CT (computed tomography) scan of the heart is done to get information about the location and size of calcified plaque in the arteries. The amount of calcium identified by the CT scan is known as a calcium score.

The purpose of this test is to find coronary artery disease at an early state (when there are no symptoms) and to tell how severe it is. This test takes about 15 minutes.

Chest X-ray

A chest X-ray takes a picture of your heart, lungs, ribs and blood vessels. The amount of radiation you receive is very small.

Dobutamine stress echocardiogram

A dobutamine stress echocardiogram lets your doctor see how well your heart is working during exercise. This test is used for people who cannot exercise on a treadmill.

Instead, you will be given dobutamine, a medicine that makes your heart beat faster and stronger while you lie in bed.

The echocardiogram will be used to see how your heart works during stress. It will help tell if there are blockages in the arteries of your heart. This test takes about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Dual source CT (computed tomography) angiography

This test allows your doctor to "see" your narrowed or clogged arteries.

Because the machine can scan faster than a beating heart, the cardiologist can give an exam to patients who have irregular heart rates and breathing (respiratory) disorders without first giving them medicine to slow their heart rates. This test takes about 15 minutes.

Echocardiogram/doppler exam

An echocardiogram (echo) is an ultrasound study of your heart muscle, heart valves and pericardium (sac surrounding the heart).

The test uses sound waves to see how well your heart is working. Doppler exams help evaluate valve disorders and heart failure.

It will show how well your heart is pumping (ejection fraction) and what parts of the heart muscle may or may not be working normally (wall motion analysis). This test takes about 20 to 30 minutes.

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is a test that records electrical impulses from your heart.

what an EKG looks like

Electrode patches (discs) attached to your chest send your heart's electrical activity to a special machine and is recorded on a moving strip of paper.

The doctor will look at the ECG pattern and can tell if the abnormalities are affecting the electrical impulses through your heart.

This test takes just a few minutes.

Electron beam computed tomography (EBCT)

An electron beam computed tomography (EBCT) uses an ultra fast electron beam to take pictures of your heart.

The scanner can build a three-dimensional (3-D) image of your heart while it is in motion. The electron beam CT scans your heart and surrounding arteries to spot tiny, hardened deposits of calcium without a dye injection.

These bits of hardened plaque can be early warning signs of heart disease. This scan shows the amount of calcium deposits you have in your heart. This scan takes about 20 minutes.

electrophysiology study diagram

Electrophysiology study (EPS)

An electrophysiology study checks the electrical system of your heart. It is done to see if you have an abnormal heart rhythm, and if so, where the abnormal rhythm is coming from.

This test uses catheters to sense electrical impulses in different areas of your heart. This may take at least 2 hours, and often longer.

arrow points to link to more clinical trials informationMore about electrophysiology studies

Event monitor (cardio beeper test)

An event monitor will record your heart rhythm during your everyday activities.

For this test, you will wear a lightweight monitor on a belt or shoulder strap for up to 30 days.

Exercise stress test, graded exercise test or treadmill test

An exercise stress test (or a graded exercise test or a treadmill test) monitors the electrical activity of your heart during exercise.

Exercise increases your heart rate and causes your heart to work harder to pump blood to your muscles. The test will show how your heart responds to this "stress."

This test is often used to tell if there are blockages in your heart arteries. This test takes about 1 hour.

Holter monitor

A Holter monitor will record your heart rhythm during your everyday activities. For this test, you will wear a portable EKG machine. You will have a Holter monitor for either 24 or 48 hours.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a magnetic field to make three-dimensional (3-D) images of your heart. MRI has greater depth than X-rays and does not use radiation.

This test can give information about heart and blood flow. This test usually takes about 30 to 45 minutes.

Noninvasive lower extremity exercise test for PAD (peripheral artery disease)

A noninvasive lower extremity exercise test for PAD (peripheral artery disease) is an exercise test that causes PAD symptoms. The test is stopped as soon as you feel the symptoms.

Noninvasive peripheral vascular exam

A noninvasive peripheral vascular exam measures blood pressure and blood flow using sound waves created by a device called a doppler. You will have a test done while you rest and while you exercise on a treadmill.

This test helps tell if there are blockages in the leg arteries. This test takes about 30 minutes when looking at leg veins, and 45 minutes or longer when looking at the leg arteries.

Nuclear myocardial scan/nuclear imaging test

A nuclear myocardial scan or nuclear imaging test helps measure how much blood flows through your heart's arteries. You will receive a small, safe dose of a radioactive material into a vein in your arm. A special camera will scan your heart. You will receive a second dose of the radioactive material while you exercise on a treadmill.


Do not eat or drink caffeine for 24 hours before the test.

If you cannot be on a treadmill, you will receive a medicine (such as adenosine) that dilates or relaxes the walls of the arteries of your heart. Arteries with blockages do not relax as much so there is not as much blood flow through them.

Dobutamine is a medicine that stimulates the "stress" of exercise by increasing the stress on your heart wall. The camera will scan your heart again. This test may take 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Peripheral angiogram or venogram

A peripheral angiogram or venogram evaluates the circulation in your arms or legs. You will receive a dye in your blood vessels to produce images on a video monitor.

Your doctor can study the images to see if there are blockages in the arteries and veins of the legs and arms. This test takes about 1 hour.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scan

A positron emission tomography (PET) gives information about blood flow and the health of your heart.


Tell your doctor if you have an allergy to X-ray contrast, iodine or shellfish.

You will receive a low dose of a radioactive material, which will take about 40 minutes. The PET machine scans your heart. The total average time for this scan is 3 to 4 hours.

Stress echocardiogram

A stress echocardiogram (echo) is a test to see how well your heart responds to exercise. This test uses ultrasound with a regular stress test to record images of your heart before and after exercise. (See exercise stress test above.) This test will take about 1 hour.

Tilt study

A tilt study is a test used to find out the cause of your fainting. The test tries to make your body react like it does before and during a fainting spell.

A special table turns or tilts you from a flat to a head-upright position. Your doctor will watch and record your heart rate and blood pressure during the test. Medicine may be needed to help the doctor find out what is wrong. This test may take 1 to 3 hours.

Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)

A transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) uses ultrasound images of your heart from inside your esophagus (swallowing or food tube).

You will swallow a flexible tube (the size of an index finger) that has a small ultrasound transducer on the end. Once you have swallowed the tube, the doctor will take close-up ultrasound pictures of your heart. This test will take about 1 hour.

arrow points to link to more clinical trials informationMore about TEE



Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Helping Your Heart, fourth edition, cvs-ahc-90648

First published: 10/04/2002
Last updated: 06/01/2007

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts