Heart Tests: When Do You Need Them
Heart tests can be very helpful in finding out what kind of heart problem you have and what treatment you need.
These tests help doctors find out what's causing new symptoms, such as discomfort in your chest, shortness of breath, or irregular heartbeats. They can also:
But they may not be helpful if your doctor doesn't have a specific reason for the test—for example, when you don't have heart disease or your treatment for heart disease isn't causing any problems.
Sometimes doctors automatically schedule routine tests because they think that's what patients expect. But experts say that routine heart tests can be a waste of time and money.
Common heart tests that experts agree aren't needed as a matter of routine include:
Why might you need a test?
Doctors order heart tests for many reasons. For example, the test can find out what's causing symptoms like unexplained chest pain, shortness of breath, or irregular heartbeats.
Heart tests can be appropriate for a healthy person. This happens when a personal history or physical exam points to risk for a heart problem. For example, an athlete may be at risk for a heart problem associated with exercise. So a test such as an exercise electrocardiogram can be done before he or she takes part in competitive sports.
Here are some other reasons why you might need certain kinds of heart tests:
When should you say "no" to a test?
Heart tests help a lot when your doctor is trying to find out what's wrong, which treatment to use, or how well a certain treatment is working.
But experts say that many tests aren't needed—even for heart patients—when everything is fine and you're just having a checkup. Sometimes doctors automatically schedule routine tests because they think that's what patients expect.
Here's what experts say about common heart tests that are sometimes ordered when they're not needed:
How do you say "no" to your doctor?
The thought of saying "no" to a doctor makes a lot of people uncomfortable. But it's important to have a conversation about what the test is for. Asking a few questions is a great way to start that conversation. Try one or more of these questions:
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