The Most Common Tests Used in Diagnosing Cardiac Disease

treadmill test
stress test. Charles Thatcher/Getty Images

Because there are many types of cardiac disease that affect the heart in many different ways, it should not be surprising that numerous tests have been developed to assess various aspects of cardiac function.

This article describes the tests most commonly used in evaluating the heart and in diagnosing the type and extent of the most common types of heart disease.

General Heart Tests

These tests are commonly used as a general "screen" for heart disease.

The are often used to establish a “baseline” in people with no known cardiac disease. While the ECG test is usually considered “routine,” however, the latter two tests are no longer considered routinely helpful in healthy people.

Tests for Coronary Artery Disease

These tests are commonly used when doctors are suspicious of the possibility of coronary artery disease (CAD):

  • MUGA Scan - measures functional integrity of the heart, and can detect areas of heart muscle that are damaged from CAD
  • Calcium Scans - detects coronary artery calcification, an important sign of atherosclerosis
  • Multislice CT Scan - a noninvasive method of detecting coronary artery blockages
  • Cardiac MRI - helps evaluate numerous aspects of cardiac anatomy and function

Tests for Structural Heart Disease

These tests are commonly used to diagnose structural heart disease, such as heart failure, valvular heart disease and congenital heart disease:

  • Echocardiogram - can detect numerous forms of structural heart disease
  • Trans-esophageal echocardiogram - a method of obtaining clearer echo images of cardiac structure and function
  • MUGA Scan - assesses overall function of the heart
  • Cardiac Catheterization - characterizes cardiac function
  • Cardiac MRI - can detect numerous structural abnormalities

Tests for Heart Arrhythmias

These tests are commonly used to detect and diagnose heart rhythm disturbances, and to evaluate syncope:


Chou R, High Value Care Task Force of the American College of Physicians. Cardiac Screening with Electrocardiography, Stress Mchocardiography, or Myocardial Perfusion Imaging: Advice for High-value Care from the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med 2015; 162:438.

Moyer VA, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for Coronary Heart Disease with Electrocardiography: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. Ann Intern Med 2012; 157:512

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