doctor with tablet

If you think you might have a heart problem, your doctor will order a series of tests to find out what might be causing your symptoms and make a plan for your treatment.

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Symptoms of Heart-related Conditions

Heart-related symptoms can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations, or a fluttering in your chest or a feeling of skipped heartbeats
  • Fatigue, or feeling very tired
  • Dry cough
  • Anxiety
  • Swelling of your feet or ankles
  • Fast weight gain

In some cases, symptoms can be mild and harmless; for example, you might feel palpitations if you’re nervous or stressed. In other cases, symptoms can be severe, and even life-threatening. If you think you or someone you know has a life-threatening condition, like a heart attack, aortic aneurysm, or aortic dissection, call 9-1-1 right away.

Even if your symptoms are mild, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor. Before your visit, you’ll want to write down your symptoms and when they happen, as well as all of the over-the-counter and prescription medicines you take.

Cardiac Imaging and Other Heart Tests

During your visit, your doctor will take your blood pressure, listen to your heart and lungs, and talk with you about your symptoms. After your check-up, your doctor might want to order blood tests and basic diagnostic tests to learn more, depending on your symptoms and medical history. These tests might include:

Blood tests

Blood tests can check the amount of different chemicals, enzymes, and other substances in your blood, from cholesterol and sugar to potassium and calcium. Having too little or too much of some substances can cause or be a sign of some health problems. Your doctor will tell you if you should fast – or not have anything to eat or drink – before your blood tests.

Electrocardiogram (EKG)

An electrocardiogram, or EKG, is a fast, painless test that measures your heart’s rhythm and can show if your heartbeat is regular or irregular. An EKG usually takes just a few minutes and can be done in your doctor’s office. You don’t need to do anything special to get ready for this test.

Holter monitor test

A Holter monitor test is a type of EKG that measures your heart’s rhythm over the course of 24 to 48 hours while you go about your daily routine. The test can pick up any irregular rhythms that might not show up during a regular EKG. During the test, sticky patches called electrodes will be placed on your chest. To get ready, you should wear loose-fitting clothing to keep the electrodes from coming loose.

Echocardiogram (ECG)

An echocardiogram, also called an echo or an ECG, is a test that uses sound waves to make moving pictures of your heart to show if its walls, valves, and the amount of blood it pumps out are normal. This test usually takes about 30-60 minutes and can be done in a doctor’s office or hospital. You don’t need to do anything special to get ready for this test.

Stress test

A stress test shows your doctor how well your heart works during activity. During the test, you exercise or get medicine to make your heart work harder. Some stress tests can include pictures of your heart before and after activity. There are different types of stress tests, so your doctor will tell you how to get ready for the kind that you have.

Test Results

When your test results are in, your doctor will go over them with you and explain what they mean. Most test results take about one week.

If your test results are normal, your doctor might suggest lifestyle changes that can make your symptoms easier to manage; for example, if you have palpitations when you feel stressed, your doctor might suggest healthy ways to help you cope.

If your results are not normal, your doctor will make a treatment plan based on your specific needs that might include lifestyle changes, medicines, or procedures.

If you have symptoms of a heart problem, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or contact us at 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484). You can also attend a free heart screening to gain more understanding of your risk factors.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.