Coronary artery disease (CAD) may go overlooked until someone has a heart attack. Imaging tests, like coronary angiograms, can be used to diagnose CAD.

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is caused by plaque buildup in the walls of arteries that supply blood to the heart. In the United States, CAD is the most common form of heart disease.

Many people do not have symptoms of CAD until a severe blockage occurs, which can be life threatening. CAD is a leading cause of death worldwide, resulting in at least 350,000 deaths each year.

For anyone with risk factors or early symptoms of CAD, blood tests and medical imaging can be used to diagnose the condition before a heart attack or heart failure occurs.

For many people, the first sign of CAD is a heart attack. But doctors may be able to detect warning signs of CAD during a physical exam before this happens.

During a physical exam, your doctor can get a better idea of how your blood is flowing by:

Your doctor may want to check you for signs of CAD if you have risk factors, such as:

When warning signs and symptoms of CAD are present, your doctor will typically request blood tests and medical imaging of the heart and blood vessels to get a diagnosis. These tests allow healthcare professionals to get a better idea of the heart’s structure and function, as well as evidence of where any blockages may be.

Typically, the first sign of CAD is often a heart attack.

Warning signs of heart attacks include:

Even if you do not have a heart attack, the vast majority of people with CAD have chest pain because their heart is not getting enough blood and reduced levels of oxygen.

While everyone’s symptoms can vary, research suggests that women are more likely to have atypical symptoms, like:

  • abdominal cramps
  • indigestion
  • fatigue
  • vomiting or nausea

A wide range of tests can be used to detect coronary artery disease.

If you have risk factors or symptoms of CAD, your doctor may recommend one or several of the following:

Healthcare professionals may also request blood work to determine if there are elevated levels of any substances in the blood that might be a sign of plaque buildup or decreased heart function.

It depends. Your out-of-pocket costs for diagnostic testing can vary greatly depending on your insurance coverage and the location you have the tests done at.

The type of diagnostic test recommended can also affect the cost. You’ll need to speak with your doctor and insurance company about your expected costs and circumstances.

If you’re worried about affording the cost of CAD diagnostic testing, you may wish to speak with your doctor about payment plan options. You could also check if other local locations provide the test for a cheaper price.

If you have HSA or FSA funds, these can typically be used to help cover the cost of your testing.

There are several ways to monitor aspects of your heart health at home, but it’s not advised — or often possible — to try diagnosing a serious condition like a heart blockage yourself.

If you believe you’re having any symptoms of CAD, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention.

CAD is a type of heart disease that, if left untreated, can result in heart attack or heart failure. Blocked blood flow to the heart is a medical emergency, so seek medical assistance right away if you have any symptoms of CAD.

Detecting coronary artery disease early is one of the best ways to help prevent serious heart health emergencies.

If you have any risk factors or early warning signs of CAD, your doctor may recommend blood tests and medical imaging to determine if you have this condition.