Common Tests for Your Heart

There are several tests that your doctor may order to check the health of your heart.  Depending on the results, you may be referred to a specialist to receive a device such as a pacemaker or defibrillator or to have surgery to repair diseased heart vessels, or heart valves.  An Electrophysiologist is a specialist who takes care of abnormalities associated with rhythm disturbances and may do specialized testing to determine the origin of the arrhythmia.  In this section we will provide information on the most common tests your healthcare provider may order for you.

Angiography or Cardiac Catheterization

An angiogram is a test that takes x-ray pictures of the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart. During an angiogram, a special dye is injected into the coronary arteries through a special catheter (tube) that has been inserted into the blood vessel. This dye allows the vessels to be seen easily on x-ray and then can be assessed for any blockages.

Angiography may be recommended for patients with angina (chest pain) or those with suspected coronary artery disease (CAD). The test gives doctors valuable information on the condition of your coronary arteries.

Cardiolite Stress Test

A Cardiolite stress test is similar to a stress echo with the addition of Cardiolite. Cardiolite is a radioisotope that is injected into the bloodstream that allows the healthcare provider to take special pictures of your coronary arteries that supply the heart. Pictures will be taken while you are at rest and while you are either exercising on a treadmill or while your heart rate is increased with a medication if you are unable to exercise.

Doppler Ultrasound

Similar to the echocardiogram, a Doppler ultrasound (or Doppler echocardiography) is a test in which very high frequency sound waves are bounced off of the heart and blood vessels. The returning sound waves (echoes) are picked up and turned into pictures showing blood flow through the arteries and the heart. The doctors will be able to see any obstruction of blood flow and measure the degree of narrowing of the arteries or any leakage of blood caused by valve disease.
This test can assess any vessels including those in your neck, arms and legs.

Electrocardiogram (EKG/EKG)

is a test that checks how your heart is functioning by measuring the electrical impulse that causes your heart muscle to contract.  By measuring how long the electrical signal takes to pass through your heart, your healthcare provider can determine if the electrical activity is normal.  This test may be recommended if you are experiencing arrhythmias (irregular beats or rates which are too fast or too slow), palpitations, dizziness, excessive fatigue or angina. 
An ECG/EKG is a non-invasive test.  It is painless and involves the placement of electrodes which are small adhesive patches or suction cups (12-15) that are placed on your chest, arms and legs.  There are sensor pads in these patches that record the electrical activity which is recorded on a graph paper that is then interpreted by the doctor or technologist.  The test usually only takes 5 -10 minutes.

Electrophysiology Study

This procedure helps diagnose and treat rhythm disturbances of your heart. The treatment of rhythm disturbances may involve eliminating the abnormal electrical pathway responsible for your symptoms. The test involves inserting flexible catheters into your groin and or neck that are positioned in the heart. These catheters can trace the electrical signals and identify the location of the abnormal rhythm. The test is usually done as a day surgery, with most patients being able to return home the same day.

Holter Monitor

This test is similar to an ECG/EKG however the recording device is usually worn for a 24-hr period to diagnose heart rhythm disturbances.  This small recording device has electrodes placed on your chest that record your hearts activity on a tape.  The tape is then played back and analyzed to find out the cause of your symptoms.  Some recording systems let the patient wearing the device push a button to capture a rhythm as soon as they feel any symptoms.

Stress Test/Stress Echocardiogram

This is a diagnostic test where you will be asked to walk on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bike while being hooked up to equipment that monitors your heart.  Your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and electrical activity (ECG/EKG) will be monitored and recorded.  This will show how well your heart is tolerating the exercise.
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of your heart that allows the doctor to see the blood flow through the heart, assess the size and function of the heart muscle, and the heart valves.
If you are unable to exercise your heart rate can be increased with medication while you lie down.  Your healthcare provider will determine which test is appropriate for you.

Tilt Table Test

A tilt table test can be done to determine the cause of syncope (fainting). The test is usually done with a patient lying down. The heart rate and blood pressure will be monitored. The table is tilted upright, to specific angles or to a standing position. A test is considered positive if the patient's symptoms are reproduced when the table is tilted upright.

Transesophageal Echocardiogram (TEE)

A transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) is a special type of echocardiogram or heart ultrasound.  It allows your doctor to look more closely at the heart, and also to see if there are any blood clots in the heart chambers.  A transducer or wand allows high frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to examine the structures of the heart. 

Your throat will be numbed with an anaesthetic spray and then a flexible scope (tube about the size of your index finder) will be inserted into your throat and passed down the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to your stomach). Since the esophagus is close to the heart, the pictures from the TEE can give the doctor good images of the heart and its structures.

The procedure should not be painful or interfere with your breathing, but you will feel the probe moving.  The pictures are converted on a video screen which allows pictures to be taken from many different angles.  The test takes about 20-40 minutes.


  • Advanced cardiac service hospital sites
  • London Health Sciences Centre - Cardiac Tests
  • Ottawa Heart Institute
  • Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
  • Southlake Regional Health Centre
  • Cleveland Clinic - Cardiac Tests and Procedures