What is a cardiovascular health test, how to test it & what does it show?

A cardiovascular health test can help monitor or diagnose heart and circulatory conditions such as coronary artery disease, as well as assess an individual’s risk of stroke and heart attacks. There are several types if test available, which assess different aspects of cardiovascular health.

This page explains different type of cardiovascular tests, what the results show and what they could mean.

What is a cardiovascular test?

A number of cardiovascular health tests can be performed to diagnose or manage a heart condition, which can be more or less invasive. Some of the most common test include:

  • An electrocardiogram (ECG) records the trace of your heart rhythm, rate, and electrical activity to identify any potential problems such as an irregular heartbeat, and assess the person’s risk of stroke and heart attacks. It is performed by attaching sensors to several areas of the body to record the heart’s activity, which is completely painless and takes around 5 minutes to complete.
  • An echocardiogram consists of an ultrasound scan of the heart, whereby high frequency sound waves are used to produce an image of the heart. This tests helps assess the health of your heart valves and muscles, and identify any damage that may be caused by a heart condition.
  • An exercise stress test, also called exercise tolerance test (ETT), is and ECG that is performed while the person is active – for instance while walking on a treadmill or pedalling on an exercise bike. This test therefore shows how the heart responds to exercise and whether there are any problems linked to physical activities.
  • A nuclear stress test is similar to an exercise stress test, but also records the blood flow into the heart with a tracer that is injected into the bloodstream.
  • A cardiac CT scan is an efficient way to diagnose coronary heart disease, as it assesses the amount of calcium deposits present in the arteries.
  • Coronary angiography is used to assess the blood flow through the coronary arteries by inserting a thin tube (catheter) through the groin or in an artery in the arm up into the heart.
  • A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is done with a scanning machine that uses a magnetic field to produce an image of the heart and blood vessels. This is an efficient way to assess the heart structure and blood supply.
  • Several blood tests – such as full blood counts, glucose and cholesterol tests – can be done to assess your blood health and rule out other causes of heart symptoms. You can find out more about full blood counts in our full blood count guide here.

You may need a cardiovascular health test if you are at risk of heart attacks or stroke (for instance if you are obese, have a genetic risk of heart disease, are 65 and over and / or are a smoker) or if you are experiencing symptoms including chest pain, chest tightness and an irregular heartbeat.

What does a cardiovascular test show?

Cardiovascular tests may be performed individually or together to paint an overall picture of your heart health. As different tests give different results, your results will ascertain different aspects of your heart health depending on the test(s) taken. The most common heart and circulatory conditions that can be identified with a cardiovascular test can include the following:

  • Arrhythmias
  • Heart disease
  • Cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart)
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Risk of stroke and heart attacks

All result must take into account the test method as well as the subject’s age, weight and medical history, in order to be interpreted correctly.

What test will show heart blockages?

Whilst all the tests listed above can all indicate how well the heart is functioning, the specific tests for identifying blockages in the heart are:

  • ECG
  • Echocardiogram
  • Cardiac angiogram
  • Exercise stress test (with ECG & Echocardiogram)
  • Nuclear stress test
  • CT scan

What is considered a cardiovascular event?

A cardiovascular event refers to any event that can potentially cause damage to the heart muscle, generally caused by an interruption of blood flow leading to injury (infarction). Such events can be caused by conditions such as arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, heart valve disease, and coronary artery disease.

What are the signs of an unhealthy heart?

Some of the signs of poor heart health can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Swollen feet and ankles
  • Racing or slow heartbeat
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness
  • Fainting

It is essential to note that the symptoms abovementioned are not always indicative of a heart issues and could be mistaken for another problem.

If you suspect you may have a heart condition, you should consult your GP immediately.

How can I improve my heart health fast?

You can boost your cardiovascular health naturally by making certain lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Quitting smoking is the best way to reduce your risk of heart attacks as nicotine forces your heart to work harder by constricting blood vessels.
  • Monitor and control your blood pressure, particularly if it is high
  • Keep your diabetes and cholesterol levels under control
  • Eat heart-healthy foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, oily fish and whole grains
  • Avoid foods high in saturated fats
  • Reduce your alcohol intake
  • Reduce your stress levels
  • Exercise more regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight

How can I check my heart health at home?

You can check your heart health at home by feeling your pulse to assess how fast your heart beats and whether it is irregular. You simply need to count the number of times your heart beats in a minute to find out your heart rate, while making sure to look out for irregularities while taking your pulse.

You can also take an at-home blood test to assess several elements that could affect your heart health, such as cholesterol levels, glucose levels and general blood health. Our home blood tests include various health markers and offer different levels of testing depending on which aspects of your health you would like to test. All you need to do is order your kit, take your own sample, send it back in our pre-addressed return envelope, and wait to receive your results online within 8 days.

Alternatively, you can book a health check with one of our Certified Healthcare professionals at one of over 2,000 mobile clinics nationwide. All of our Health MOT Packages include blood health markers pertaining to heart health, and also include an ECG test.