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 Need© Hemera/Thinkstock

To spot signs of blockages, a doctor stresses the heart by putting you on a treadmill or stationary bike while doing an ECG and perhaps an echocardiogram. The test may not detect early disease (results read abnormal only if an artery is blocked 50 to 70 percent or more). Cost: $250 to $1,000.
Whom does it help? People with symptoms of blockage, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or arm, neck, or back pain triggered by exercise, as well as sedentary people who want to start exercising.

X-rays form a detailed picture of the heart. A coronary calcium scan reveals calcium deposits in heart arteries, indicating risk of heart disease. Patients with symptoms may also have dye injected to spot blockages. Cost: about $100 ($1,500 or more with dye).
Whom does it help? A coronary calcium score may determine treatment for people with a risk factor such as high cholesterol. (Diet and exercise may be enough for those with a low score; a high score may indicate a need for statins.) However, there have not been randomized trials showing that the test and resulting treatment lead to fewer heart disease deaths. Also, the dye scan may increase cancer risk slightly (due to radiation) and contribute to kidney and thyroid 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.