Blood tests that may be ordered as part of making an atherosclerosis diagnosis include:
- A fasting glucose test that checks your blood sugar level to screen for diabetes.
- A fasting lipid panel to check your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- A CRP test. This blood test measures C-reactive protein (CRP), a protein in the blood that shows the presence of inflammation. Inflammation is the body's response to injury. High levels of CRP may be a risk factor for atherosclerosis (see CRP Test for Heart Disease).
An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is a test that records your heart's electrical activity and can show certain problems, such as abnormal heartbeats or damage to the heart.
A chest x-ray provides a picture of the lungs, heart, large arteries, ribs, and the diaphragm.
Some heart problems caused by atherosclerosis are easier to diagnose when the heart is working hard and beating fast. During stress testing, a patient exercises or is given medicine to make the heart work harder and beat faster while tests are performed. In an exercise stress test, your heart, breathing, and blood pressure are monitored while you exercise using a treadmill or a stationary bicycle. An EKG is usually done before, during, and after the stress test.
Other heart tests, such as nuclear heart scanning or echocardiography, can be done at the same time as an EKG. During nuclear heart scanning, radioactive dye is injected into the bloodstream, and a special camera shows the flow of blood to the heart muscle. If a person is unable to exercise, a medicine can be injected into the bloodstream to make the heart work harder and beat faster. Nuclear heart scanning or echocardiography is then done.
Two newer tests that are being performed with stress testing are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scanning of the heart. MRI shows detailed images of the structures and beating of the heart. PET scanning shows blood flow to the heart muscle and areas of damaged heart muscle.