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Atherosclerosis Diagnosis: What Tests Can Confirm Condition?

Medically reviewed by Mae Charisse Antalan, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Mar 13

    Atherosclerosis Diagnosis: What Tests Can Confirm Condition?

    A complete medical history report and physical exam can help detect symptoms of atherosclerosis. Your doctor will also recommend tests to determine whether you have risk factors for plaque formation in the arteries. These tests include blood tests, imaging scans, and other diagnostic screenings for atherosclerosis. How do atherosclerosis diagnosis tests work and how effective are they in determining condition? 

    Measuring Your risk

    Your doctor may do a blood pressure check, and calculate your body mass index and waist measurement to determine whether you are of unhealthy weight. They may also conduct atherosclerosis diagnosis blood tests to determine whether you have diabetes or unhealthy levels of blood triglycerides or cholesterol. They will also check your blood pressure.

    Discuss risk factors with your healthcare physician:

    • Lifestyle practices including smoking or vaping, exercise, and eating routines
    • Your personal medical history, especially any inflammatory diseases like psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis as well as diabetes, may influence your risk.
    • Your family history, namely any blood relatives who passed away unexpectedly or had heart attacks before the age of 55.

    Furthermore, the doctor may also check your Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease Risk Score and its parameters at your initial visit. As it’s helpful in determining your risk of CVD in 10 years, it’s a good reference point.

    Atherosclerosis Diagnosis

    Here are some of the common tests used in atherosclerosis diagnosis.

    Blood tests

    Blood tests measure the levels of lipoproteins, blood sugar, triglycerides, and inflammation-related substances including C-reactive protein.


    You may receive an electrocardiogram as part of a routine exam to screen for heart disease. An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG or EKG, is a straightforward, painless test that detects and records the electrical activity of your heart. An EKG can show how quickly your heart is beating, whether the rhythm of your heartbeats is steady or irregular, and the strength and timing of the electrical impulses passing through each part of your heart.

    In order to perform the test, you will need to lie still on a table while a nurse or technician applies up to 12 electrodes to the skin of your chest, arms, and legs. Your skin may need to be shaved to make the electrodes stick, and the electrodes are connected by wires to a machine that records your heart’s electrical activity on graph paper or on a computer.

    You could get a little rash where the electrodes were attached to your skin, but this rash normally resolves on its own without treatment and has no major concerns. EKGs don’t emit electrical charges like shocks.

    Of course, a stress test is also crucial for the diagnosis of atherosclerotic coronary artery.

    Scans of the heart

    To capture photos of your heart and identify issues with coronary arteries or blood flow in the heart, your doctor may prescribe a heart imaging test.

    Here are some types:

    • Common imaging tests, like Chest X Ray, and 2D or 3D Echocardiogram
    • A heart MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) detects tissue damage or issues with blood flow in the heart or coronary arteries.
    • Cardiac MRI can help explain results from other imaging tests such as chest X-rays and CT scans.
    • Cardiac positron emission tomography (PET) scanning evaluates blood flow through the small blood vessels in the heart
    • Cardiac angiography is a specialized type of X-ray using a dye, which can be used to check the arteries in the heart. It uses CT scanning as a non-invasive imaging examination.
    • Nuclear scans, such as the Myocardial Perfusion Imaging, which can illustrate how the blood flows through the heart muscle.

    Besides these, other scans are also necessary such as the Duplex Ultrasound Scan (that looks at the speed of blood flow and structure of the veins in the legs), renal ultrasound, and abdominal ultrasound.

    Scan for coronary calcium

    A coronary calcium scan is a cardiac CT scan that quantifies the calcium content of your coronary artery walls. Calcifications, or calcium buildup, are a symptom of coronary heart disease or atherosclerosis.

    A multidetector CT (MDCT) machine is a much faster CT scanner that produces high-quality pictures of the beating heart. A coronary calcium scan uses a special scanner such as an electron beam CT or a multidetector CT (MDCT) machine. A coronary calcium scan will determine an Agatston score that reflects the amount of calcium found. The test does not use contrast dye and can be performed in a medical imaging facility or hospital.

    The risks of a coronary calcium scan are minimal. However, there is a slight chance of cancer, especially in people under 40. Because a single test exposes you to about the same amount of radiation as you would naturally over the course of a year, inform your doctor and the technicians conducting the test if you are or might be pregnant.

    Pressure tests

    When your heart is working hard to pump blood throughout your body, like it is when you exercise, some cardiac conditions are easier to spot. A stress test evaluates how well your heart functions under physical stress.

    You can undergo a stress test in a hospital or your doctor’s office. The test typically entails physical activity, such as walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bicycle. If you are unable to exercise, your doctor will give you medication that will cause your heart to beat more quickly than it would otherwise. Your doctor may also ask you to refrain from taking certain prescription medications the day of the test because caffeine can cause anxiety.

    Test of the ankle-brachial index (ABI)

    Peripheral artery disease is diagnosed via ankle-brachial index (ABI) testing. Using an ultrasound machine and a blood pressure cuff, this noninvasive examination compares the blood pressure in your arm and ankle.

    Key Takeaways

    When it comes to atherosclerosis diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe several tests and screenings to determine your health condition and to confirm whether or not you have plaque buildup in your arteries. Based on the results, your medical team will determine the best treatment plan for you.

    Learn more about Atherosclerosis here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mae Charisse Antalan, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Mar 13

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