Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction): Diagnosis and Tests

Once the emergency care team arrives, they will ask you about your symptoms and begin to evaluate you. The diagnosis of the heart attack is based on your symptoms, ECG and the results of your blood studies. The goal of treatment is to treat you quickly and limit heart muscle damage.

12-lead ECG

This is one of the initial tests that will be done. Frequently paramedics will do this on site or on the way to the hospital. The 12-lead ECG (also known as EKG or electrocardiogram) can help to tell what type of heart attack and where it has occurred.

In addition, your heart rate and rhythm can be watched. You will also be connected with leads (wires) to a bedside monitor for continuous monitoring of your heart rate and rhythm.

Blood studies

Blood may be drawn to measure levels of biochemical markers. These markers are found inside your body’s cells and are needed for their function. When your heart muscle cells are injured, their contents --including the markers – are released into your bloodstream. By measuring the levels of these markers, the doctor can determine the size of the heart attack and approximately when the heart attack started. Other blood tests may also be performed.

Other tests and procedures that may be done during the early stages of an MI:

Echocardiogram (echo)

Echo can be used during and after a heart attack to learn about how the heart is pumping and identify what areas of the heart are not pumping normally. The echo is also valuable to see if any structures of the heart (valves, septum, etc.) have been injured during the heart attack.

Cardiac catheterization (cath)

Cardiac catheterization (cath) may be performed during the first hours of a heart attack if medications are not relieving the ischemia or symptoms. The cardiac cath can be used to directly visualize the blocked artery and guide the choice for which procedure (such as angioplasty, stent placementor coronary artery bypass surgery) may follow.

Learn more about diagnostic tests and procedures