Coronary Artery Disease Tests & Diagnostics

For Leading-Edge Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Care in Orange County, Our Community Turns to Hoag.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, coronary heart disease contributes to over 375,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. About 20% of those deaths are people under the age of 65. If you’re facing coronary artery disease in Orange County, you need an advanced and experienced program and team for specialized cardiac diagnosis and care. You need Hoag.

From next-generation diagnostic testing to early-detection programs that catch cardiac conditions sooner and save lives, Hoag delivers caring, patient-centered care. Read on to learn more about the tests and exams we use to diagnose coronary artery disease at Hoag.

How is Coronary Artery Disease Diagnosed?

Preventive Diagnosis vs. Emergency Diagnosis

The way coronary artery disease is diagnosed and addressed depends greatly on whether a person is:

  • At Greater Risk for CAD and Experiencing Mild Symptoms: People can be at greater risk for CAD due to factors like being older, having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of heart issues. Those with any of these risk factors should be periodically evaluated for CAD by a physician as a preventative measure. That’s especially true if those with risk factors experience symptoms that might indicate CAD in its early stages, like mild chest pain, discomfort in the arms or shoulders or mild shortness of breath.
  • Experiencing a CAD-related Medical Emergency: A coronary emergency related to coronary artery disease is often life-threatening, and usually involves severe chest pain or chest discomfort (angina), muscle or body weakness, light-headedness, nausea, cold sweats, pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder and severe shortness of breath.

These more severe symptoms can indicate a person has myocardial ischemia, a severe blockage in the coronary arteries which can severely damage the heart muscle, including causing a potentially deadly heart attack (myocardial infarction) or stroke.

Don’t wait. Call 911 immediately if you’re experiencing symptoms like severe chest pain and shortness of breath indicating you could be having a heart attack or stroke. This is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate care.

Which Tests are Used to Diagnose Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)?

At Hoag’s Jeffrey M. Carlton Heart & Vascular Institute, there are a variety of medical tests used to diagnose coronary artery disease, determine if you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency and help your health care provider decide which type of coronary artery disease you might have. These tests may include:

Blood Testing

During and after a heart attack, the body releases certain chemicals into the blood known as cardiac biomarkers or cardiac markers. By doing blood testing for elevated levels of these cardiac markers, physicians can determine whether a person has had a heart attack.


An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), which can reveal the strength and regularity of the electrical activity of the heart, which can sometimes show if you’ve experienced a heart attack. In addition to taking your vital signs and asking you questions about the symptoms you are experiencing, your family history of heart disease or heart attacks, your personal history of issues like chest pain, heart disease, heart attack, coronary artery disease and other issues, your health care provider will likely begin by administering an electrocardiogram (EKG) test.

Stress Testing

A stress test measures the activity and efficiency of the heart while you are doing physical exercise. During the test, your doctor will monitor your heart through various methods — often including ECG — while you exert yourself by walking on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike.

Imaging Tests

Cardiac imaging is also an important tool in the diagnosis of heart attacks, helping physicians locate the blocked coronary artery, evaluate the extent of damage to the affected heart muscle, determine the patient’s risk stratification and chart a short-term and long-term treatment course. Types of imaging used to diagnose and treat coronary artery disease include:

  • Cardiac MRI: Cardiac MRI is a special form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) used to evaluate the function and structure of the heart, valves, blood vessels and other structures.
  • Cardiac Nuclear Imaging Stress Test: A Cardiac Nuclear Imaging Stress Test is a diagnostic imaging test that utilizes a radioactive tracer that allows physicians see how well blood is flowing through the arteries to the heart muscle, both while a patient is resting and doing some form of exercise, like walking on a treadmill.
  • CT scan: CT scanning of the heart is an important tool in the diagnosis of coronary artery disease, allowing healthcare providers to capture detailed images of blockages in the heart due to calcium deposits and other issues.
  • Coronary CT angiography (CTA): Coronary angiogram (also known as coronary CT angiography) is an advanced form of computed tomography (CT) scan that utilizes a contrast dye that allows doctors to collect clearer images of the coronary arteries. Among other uses, coronary angiography allows physicians to visualize and examine the coronary arteries for blockages or other restrictions that might be hindering blood flow to the heart.
  • Echocardiogram: An echocardiogram is a test that utilizes high-frequency sound waves to create moving images of the heart. This can help your healthcare provider better understand how blood is moving through the heart. That can help health care providers diagnose issues like blockages in a coronary artery, valve disease, blood clots or other potential causes of coronary artery disease.
  • Electron-beam computed tomography (EBCT), which is a special kind of CT scan used to look for the buildup of calcium in the coronary arteries.
  • Cardiac catheterization: Cardiac catheterization is a test that allows physicians to visualize the coronary arteries. During cardiac catheterization, a thin, flexible tube called a catheter is fed into the body through a blood vessel, then guided to the heart. Contrast is introduced to determine the presence of narrowing or blockages caused by coronary artery disease.

Need Advanced Coronary Artery Disease Testing? Orange County Relies on Hoag.

At Hoag’s Jeffrey M. Carlton Heart & Vascular Institute, experienced cardiologists can make a big difference in your care. It’s part of the reason why U.S. News & World Report has rated Hoag a high-performing hospital in both Heart Attack Care and Heart Bypass Surgery for 2023-2024.

If you need world-class coronary artery disease treatment in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Anaheim, Irvine, Mission Viejo or other communities across Orange County, the area’s most advanced cardiac treatment is just a short drive away, at Hoag.

To learn more, contact us through our online form.