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How Is Diabetic Heart Disease Diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose diabetic heart disease (DHD) based on your signs and symptoms, medical and family histories, a physical exam, and the results from tests and procedures.

Doctors and researchers are still trying to find out whether routine testing for DHD will benefit people who have diabetes but no heart disease symptoms.

Initial Tests

No single test can diagnose DHD, which may involve coronary heart disease (CHD), heart failure, and/or diabetic cardiomyopathy. Initially, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests.

Blood Pressure Measurement

To measure your blood pressure, your doctor or nurse will use some type of a gauge, a stethoscope (or electronic sensor), and a blood pressure cuff.

Most often, you'll sit or lie down with the cuff around your arm as your doctor or nurse checks your blood pressure. If he or she doesn't tell you what your blood pressure numbers are, you should ask.

Blood Tests

Blood tests check the levels of certain fats, cholesterol, sugar, and proteins in your blood. Abnormal levels of these substances may show that you're at risk for DHD.

A blood test also can check the level of a hormone called BNP (brain natriuretic peptide) in your blood. The heart makes BNP, and the level of BNP rises during heart failure.

Chest X Ray

A chest x ray takes pictures of the organs and structures inside your chest, such as your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. A chest x ray can reveal signs of heart failure.

EKG (Electrocardiogram)

An EKG is a simple, painless test that detects and records your heart's electrical activity. The test shows how fast your heart is beating and its rhythm (steady or irregular). An EKG also records the strength and timing of electrical signals as they pass through your heart.

An EKG can show signs of heart damage due to CHD and signs of a previous or current heart attack.

Stress Test

Some heart problems are easier to diagnose when your heart is working hard and beating fast. Stress testing gives your doctor information about how your heart works during physical stress.

During a stress test, you exercise (walk or run on a treadmill or pedal a bicycle) to make your heart work hard and beat fast. Tests are done on your heart while you exercise. If you can’t exercise, you may be given medicine to raise your heart rate.

Urinalysis

For this test, you'll give a sample of urine for analysis. The sample is checked for abnormal levels of protein or blood cells. In people who have diabetes, protein in the urine is a risk factor for DHD.

Other Tests and Procedures

Your doctor may refer you to a cardiologist if your initial test results suggest that you have a form of DHD. A cardiologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating heart diseases and conditions.

The cardiologist may recommend other tests or procedures to get more detailed information about the nature and extent of your DHD. 

For more information about other tests and procedures, go to the diagnosis sections of the Health Topics Coronary Heart Disease, Heart Failure, and Cardiomyopathy articles.

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December 1, 2009