If you go to the ER complaining of chest pain or shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, the doctor will want to order a chest X-ray.
You may wonder if this type of image can show a heart attack or reveal clogged arteries.
Perhaps you were relieved when, in the emergency room, your chest X-ray came back “clear” or “normal,” and maybe this made you think you didn’t have coronary arteries full of sludge.
What does a cardiologist have to say?
I asked Monica Reynolds, MD, a cardiologist with ColumbiaDoctors Medical Group in White Plains, NY, if a chest X-ray can show if a patient had a heart attack.
Dr. Reynolds replies, “No. CXR could show congestive heart failure or an enlarged heart or a myriad of other problems, but it CANNOT show a heart attack.”
Chest pain and shortness of breath are common symptoms and can be caused by a number of other conditions that an X-ray can pick up, such as pneumonia and an aortic aneurysm.
Chest pain and shortness of breath can also be caused by conditions that an X-ray cannot detect, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, costochondritis and extreme anxiety.
Why an X-ray Can’t Show a Heart Attack
An X-ray cannot see the inside of the coronary arteries. It can certainly see the shape and size of the heart.
But this imaging tool cannot produce a picture of an obstruction inside a heart’s blood vessel.
Nor can it show the difference between cardiac tissue that’s normal and that which has been harmed by lack of oxygen.
When a patient presents to the ER with symptoms that a heart attack can cause, doctors always know that there are other conditions that can produce the same symptoms.
These conditions will show up on an X-ray. The test that is key to diagnosing a heart attack is a blood draw for an enzymatic protein called troponin.