Heart Attack Diagnosis

How is a heart attack diagnosed?

Heart attack diagnosis is based on your symptoms, an electrocardiogram (ECG) test, and the results of your blood studies.

Once the emergency care team sees you at the hospital, they will ask you about your symptoms and begin to evaluate you. The goal of treatment is to treat you quickly and limit heart muscle damage.

The healthcare team will ask you many questions about your heart attack to decide the best treatment. Important questions include:

  • When did the pain start?
  • What were you doing?
  • Did you have to stop?
  • Did the pain get better with rest?
  • Did the pain come back with activity?
  • Did the pain stay in your chest or did it move somewhere else, like the jaw, teeth, arm or back?
  • Did you get short of breath?
  • Did you become nauseous?
  • Were you sweating profusely?

The ECG test (also known as an electrocardiogram or EKG) can help to tell what happened to your heart muscle and where it has occurred. In addition, your heart rate and rhythm can be watched. You may also be connected to a bedside monitor with leads (wires) for continuous monitoring of your heart rate and rhythm.

Blood may be drawn to measure levels of biochemicals present. Biochemical markers are found inside your body's cells and are needed for their function. When your heart muscle cells are injured, their contents—including the elements—are released into your bloodstream. By measuring the levels of these elements, the doctor can determine the size of the heart attack and approximately when the heart attack started. Other blood tests may also be performed. Other tests include the following:

  • Echocardiogram (Echo)
  • Cardiac Catheterization
  • Chest X-ray

Did you know?

Heart attack survivors are at risk for SCA

It is estimated that 1.1 million Americans survive a heart attack each year. Many of these heart attack survivors may be at increase risk for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

A landmark study called MADIT II1 showed how a heart attack that reduced the heart’s ability to pump effectively (low ejection fraction) can increase the risk for sudden cardiac death. Heart attack survivors with an ejection fraction less than 30% who received an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) had better survival than similar patients without an ICD.