Atherosclerosis diagnosis

Atherosclerosis diagnosis

Buildup of plaque in the heart arteries is probably one of the most common reasons or many heart problems. Plaque consisting of cholesterol, calcium, and other debris accumulates in the heart arteries leading to coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and other cardiovascular diseases.

Heart tests for atherosclerosis

Once a person experiences symptoms of atherosclerosis like angina, chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, and bruits, doctors prescribe certain diagnostic tests. These tests help doctors to diagnose the presence of atherosclerosis and prescribe appropriate treatment.

First, a complete physical examination including pulse, blood pressure measurement, and other blood tests like lipid profile, fasting blood glucose, HbA1c, and TSH are done.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Echocardiogram (Doppler sonography)
  • Stress test
  • CT-scan
  • MRI
  • Ultrasonography of peripheral arteries, carotid arteries
  • Radionuclide angiography
  • Coronary angiography
  • Thallium/myocardial perfusion scan
  • Cardio-ankle vascular index (ankle-brachial index)

Diagnostic tests for atherosclerosis are both invasive and non-invasive.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

In tests like ECG, the electrical impulses created by heartbeats are measured in the form of a graph. By interpreting the graph, abnormalities like irregular heartbeat, arrhythmias, defects in the size of the heart, presence of ischemia, and abnormalities of heart rhythm. The presence of ischemia is an indicator of the presence of atherosclerosis


This test used sound waves to construct an image of the heart functioning. Echocardiogram not only measures the size and shape of the heart, it can study the heart muscle in detail, determine the blood flow pattern, and the flow of blood in the heart chambers and valves. Apart from this, it can detect the presence of blood clots in the heart arteries. Irregularities in the blood flow pattern is an indicator of atherosclerosis.

CT-scan and MRI

These are imaging tests that directly visualize the presence of atherosclerotic plaques that are obstructing the flow of blood in the heart arteries.


Angiography is an invasive procedure that is used to visualize the exact location of narrowing of heart arteries. This test is done by using a dye and imaging. The dye upon using imaging shows the exact location of the formation of atherosclerotic plaques.

Angiography is done with coronary angiography or radionuclide angiogram. Radionuclide angiogram is a nuclear procedure. In this test, radioactive imaging is used to view the flow of blood in heart arteries. This test is done with a gamma camera and by injecting a radionuclide. This test can visualize the formation of atherosclerosis and the obstruction of blood flow caused due to it.

Myocardial perfusion imaging

This is also a nuclear test which studies the flow of blood in heart arteries. IT is done to ascertain the presence of restricted blood flow, and evaluate the effectiveness of treatments like coronary angioplasty, coronary artery bypass graft, and stenting. By determining restricted blood flow this test determines the presence of atherosclerosis.