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Diagnosis of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Related Media: Coronary Angiography

Suspicion of CAD may be based on your medical history and symptoms such as chest pain with exertion. A complete physical exam will be done to look for other signs of CAD. Diagnosis is often made by assessing the results of several tests. Tests can also eliminate other health conditions with symptoms similar to CAD. In some people, CAD is found by chance during a regular physical exam.

The most accurate way to diagnose CAD is with coronary angiography and catheterization. During this procedure, a thin tube is threaded to the coronary artery where a dye is released. The dye shows the location of blockages in the coronary arteries.

Other tests that may detect changes in blood flow include:

  • Echocardiogram —Ultrasound that detects abnormalities in the heart muscle by highlighting areas of poor blood flow.
  • MRI scan —Evaluates blood flow to the heart muscle.
  • PET scan —Evaluates blood flow to the heart muscle.

Some tests may detect heart damage or other health conditions. These may include:

  • Cardiac CT scan —Detects calcium deposits that may indicate early atherosclerosis.
  • Exercise stress test —Records the heart's electrical activity during increased physical activity. It may be coupled with other tests that detect blood flow through the heart. People who cannot exercise may be given IV medication that simulates the effects of physical exertion.
  • Chest x-ray —Detects heart enlargement or congestion in the lungs. This test can help diagnose heart failure or an unrelated lung condition.
  • ECG—The ECG records the electrical activity of your heart through electrodes attached to the skin. This test will help diagnose heart rhythm problems, muscle abnormalities, and damage to the heart from a previous heart attack.
  • SPECT scan—Evaluates blood flow to the heart muscle or looks for signs of a heart attack.

Blood tests may also be done to look for risk factors for CAD such as:

  • Elevated C-reactive protein levels
  • Cholesterol levels
  • High blood glucose levels (diabetes)

Blood tests may also be done to look for related conditions such as kidney or liver disease.



C-reactive protein (CRP) and other biomarkers as cardiac risk factors. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated February 25, 2016. Accessed March 5, 2018.
Coronary artery disease (CAD). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated February 28, 2018. Accessed March 5, 2018.
Coronary heart disease. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: Accessed March 5, 2018.
Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). American Heart Association website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated September 19, 2016. Accessed March 5, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated: 3/15/2015


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