4 Heart Tests You May Not Need

Before your next check up, learn which heart tests healthy people might not need.

Adapted from Reuters.com | By Frederik Joelving and Genevra Pittman from Reader's Digest Magazine | June 2012
4 Heart Tests You May Not NeedIllustration by Mark Matcho

Screening tests play an important role in diagnosing heart problems in people who have certain symptoms or heart disease risk factors. But some commonly prescribed tests probably don’t help people who are at low risk and who lack symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath. What’s more, they may lead to false positive results, which can trigger more invasive tests. The government-backed U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises against routine screening for heart disease for people at low risk (risk factors include family history, older age, high blood pressure, obesity or diabetes, and smoking). Here, tests healthy people might second-guess.

1) ECG (EKG)
A readout of your heart’s electrical activity recorded by electrodes on the chest; costs about $50. An ECG (also called electrocardiogram) may help identify irregular heart rhythms, heart attacks, and other problems. No trials have looked at whether ECGs help detect the risk of disease in those without symptoms.
Whom does it help? For those with an irregular heart rate, unexplained fainting, or risk factors like a family history of heart disease, an ECG can be helpful, says cardiologist Sarah Samaan, MD, author of Best Practices for a Healthy Heart. The test is also used to screen athletes for risk of sudden death and for people with high blood pressure (to find signs of abnormal heart-muscle thickening).

A moving ultrasound of the heart, which can show how well it pumps blood and whether it has structural problems; costs between $200 and $500.
Whom does it help? An echo can help spot heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and murmurs, which are often caused by leaky or stiff valves. It can help people with high blood pressure because the test can find enlargement, weakness, or stiffness in the heart muscle. Some abnormal ECGs should prompt an echo, which can detect congenital and inheritable heart problems.

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  • Your Comments

    • Jgresch

      I will tell you one thing that didn’t help my husband.  Both of us had a ultrasound check just a couple of months before his heart attack.  We were advised in the private company’s literature that this check could help detect atherosclerosis and overall heart health.  It gave my husband a clear bill of health.  Evidently, this also happened to a cousin of mine, who had a scan that showed everything was great and then dropped dead a few weeks later of a heart attack. 

      Personal injury lawyers, are you monitoring these incidents?


    • WCMayer

      Although some of the medical tests are unnecessary, some
      save lives.


      There are about 300,000 preventable deaths from sudden
      cardiac arrests each year in the United States.   One simple tool to reduce these fatalities is to employ the MTWA
      test.  Twelve international studies
      clearly indicate that Cambridge Heart’s Microvolt T-Wave Alternans test
      identifies individuals at high risk of sudden cardiac death. This test does not
      take long; it is non-invasive, CMS/Private Insurance covered, F.D.A. approved,
      and relatively inexpensive (about $200). 
      Unfortunately, for some reason this test is not being provided to hearth
      patients.   As a result, about 850
      people die daily from sudden cardiac death.


      In addition, to add insult to injury, 21% of the
      defibrillators that are implanted are unnecessary, according to a recent JAMA
      study.  Another study, this one
      conducted by Columbia University a few years ago, determined that 30% of the
      170,000 ICD’s were uncalled for.  Since
      each defibrillator costs about $65,000, and there were over 50,000
      unnecessarily installed, this amounts to a waste of over $3.2 billion.  And this does not include the additional
      cost to monitor these unwarranted implants. 
      Yet Cambridge Heart’s Microvolt T-Wave Alternans tests could have
      prevented this waste, since it can determine who benefits from an ICD. 

      In summary, because for some reason MTWA tests are not employed,

      850 people die needlessly each day, and

      about 25% of the implants are unnecessary. 


    • LongTimeReader

      Interesting that you state a stress test costs between $250 and $1,000.  I had a nuclear stress test recently.  The facility billed me $4,935.65 and the cardiologist billed another $750 to look at the results.  You might need to correct your estimate of the costs.