Diagnosing a Heart Attack

Health Professional

Diagnosing a heart attack in women is more difficult than men. Women frequently report milder symptoms like shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, and mild chest discomfort.

Here are some tests available to diagnose a heart attack.


An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) measures the electrical activity of the heart via small electrodes on your chest. This may be completed while lying down or during a stress test. The electrocardiogram records heart rate and rhythm and it can find evidence of a heart attack or reduced blood flow to the heart. This test may not conclusively diagnose a heart attack, especially if you are not having symptoms during the test.

Blood Tests

Blood tests are utilized to screen for proteins in the blood often connected to a heart attack. These proteins include myoglobin, creatine kinase, and troponin. Abnormally high levels may indicate a heart attack and heart cell death. Blood tests are often completed within 30-minutes of your arrival to the emergency room so treatment (if needed) can begin immediately.

Stress Tests

A stress test often involves walking on a treadmill while completing an electrocardiogram. Diagnosis accuracy improves when a stress test is combined with stress echocardiography.

Stress echocardiography

Stress echocardiography uses ultrasound imaging to show how well the heart muscle is pumping blood throughout the body.  This provides detailed information about the heart muscle, chamber, valves, and major blood vessels around the heart. This test also measures "ejection fraction," which is the amount of blood pumped during each heart beat by the left ventricle.

Electron beam computed tomography (EBT)

Also referred to as an "ultra-fast CT scan of the heart," detects the build-up of calcium in coronary arteries. Arterial plaque contains of calcium and this test provides a 3-D picture of plaque to determine heart attack risk.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging uses a magnetic field and radio wave energy pulses to create detailed pictures of your organs and tissues. A cardiac MRI creates still and moving images of the heart and major blood vessels.

Angiographor Angiogram

Angiography uses x-rays of the arteries and veins to detect blockages. During the angiogram a catheter is inserted into the artery and a dye is injected to make blood vessels visible on the x-ray.

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