The diagnosis of atherosclerosis is based on a combination of medical history, a physical exam and test results. The physical exam includes listening for abnormal sounds in the arteries and checking the strength of pulses in different parts of the body. A weak pulse in a leg, foot, arm or hand and a ‘whooshing’ sound are indicative of poor blood flow, which may be due to a blocked artery.
Diagnostic tests include the simple blood test described above, an electrocardiogram (to check heart beat, strength and rhythm) and stress testing (to identify abnormal changes when the heart is required to work harder).
Chest X-rays are useful to identify signs of heart failure or an angiography can be performed, where a dye is injected into the arteries and any narrowing of the arteries is viewable by X-ray.
Echocardiography is an important tool to generate a moving picture of the heart using sound waves, allowing the identification of areas of the heart with poor blood flow, decreased muscle contractions and previously damaged heart tissue.
Other imaging techniques include computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.