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How Is a Heart Attack Diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose a heart attack based on your signs and symptoms, your medical and family histories, and test results.

Diagnostic Tests

EKG (Electrocardiogram)

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

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

Blood Tests

During a heart attack, heart muscle cells die and release proteins into the bloodstream. Blood tests can measure the amount of these proteins in the bloodstream. Higher than normal levels of these proteins suggest a heart attack.

Commonly used blood tests include troponin tests, CK or CK–MB tests, and serum myoglobin tests. Blood tests often are repeated to check for changes over time.

Coronary Angiography

Coronary angiography (an-jee-OG-ra-fee) is a test that uses dye and special x rays to show the insides of your coronary arteries. This test often is done during a heart attack to help find blockages in the coronary arteries.

To get the dye into your coronary arteries, your doctor will use a procedure called cardiac catheterization (KATH-e-ter-ih-ZA-shun).

A thin, flexible tube called a catheter is put into a blood vessel in your arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck. The tube is threaded into your coronary arteries, and the dye is released into your bloodstream.

Special x rays are taken while the dye is flowing through the coronary arteries. The dye lets your doctor study the flow of blood through the heart and blood vessels.

If your doctor finds a blockage, he or she may recommend a procedure called percutaneous (per-ku-TA-ne-us) coronary intervention (PCI), sometimes referred to as coronary angioplasty (AN-jee-oh-plas-tee). This procedure can help restore blood flow through a blocked artery. Sometimes a small mesh tube called a stent is placed in the artery to help prevent blockages after the procedure.

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Heart Attack Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Heart Attack, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.


Heart Attack in the News

October 24, 2013
NIH and CDC launch registry for sudden death in the young
A registry of deaths in young people from conditions such as heart disease and epilepsy is being created to help researchers define the scope of the problem and set future research priorities. The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are collaborating to create the Sudden Death in the Young Registry.

View all Heart Attack Press Releases


Know the Facts and Act Fast!

Collage image of new heart attack materials

When a heart attack happens, any delays in treatment can be deadly. 

Knowing the warning symptoms of a heart attack and how to take action can save your life or someone else’s.

The NHLBI has created a new series of informative, easy-to-read heart attack materials to help the public better understand the facts about heart attacks and how to act fast to save a life.

Click the links to download or order the NHLBI's new heart attack materials:

“Don’t Take a Chance With a Heart Attack: Know the Facts and Act Fast” (also available in Spanish)

“Heart Attack: Know the Symptoms. Take Action.”

“Learn What a Heart Attack Feels Like—It Could Save Your Life”

 
December 17, 2013 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.

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