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How is Heart Failure Diagnosed?

Physical Exam and Health History

If you have any of the symptoms of heart failure, you should see your doctor. You can prepare for this appointment by:

  • Writing down your symptoms
  • Making a list of the medicines you take
  • Writing down any questions you have

You may find it helpful to bring a friend or family member to help you remember all the information you and your doctor may discuss.

At your appointment, your doctor will give a physical exam and ask questions about your health history. This helps to get a complete picture of your overall health. He or she will likely take your blood pressure and listen to your heart and lungs for signs of congestion and abnormal heart sounds.


Testing

Click on the "Learn More" button below to see what tests your doctor might order to diagnose heart failure.

  • This simple test, sometimes called an ECG or EKG, records your heart's rhythm. This is done by attaching electrodes to your skin.
  • The electrodes are flat adhesive patches connected to wires and an electric monitor that measures how the heart is working.
  • This helps your doctor see problems with your heart's rhythm or heart attack damage that may be the cause for heart failure.
  • Heart failure can cause fluid to build up in your lungs. A chest x-ray can help to see if this is happening.
  • This helps your doctor rule out other reasons for your symptoms.
  • This test, sometimes called an "echo," uses sound waves to create a video image of your heart. It can help your doctor see how much blood your heart is pumping.
  • It can also show problems in the heart and show damage from previous heart attacks.
  • It can show problems related to narrowed or leaking heart valves.
  • In this test, you may be attached to an ECG machine while you walk on a treadmill or ride on an exercise bike.
  • This helps your doctor see how your heart reacts to exercise.
  • A blood test can help diagnose heart failure by ruling out other conditions like thyroid or kidney disease.
  • Blood tests can also screen for a special chemical that the heart gives off in cases of heart failure.
  • Cardiac catheterization uses a thin tube called a catheter that is put into your groin or arm. This is usually done in a hospital.
  • The catheter is then guided through your aorta (the main artery in your body) into your coronary arteries.
  • A dye is injected through the catheter, which helps show what your coronary arteries look like on an x-ray. This test helps a doctor see if there are blockages in the arteries. Blockages can cause heart failure.
  • This test can also show how well the heart is working.
  • These tests use a small amount of dye that is injected into a vein.
  • Pictures of the heart are then taken. These pictures help your doctor see how well the heart is pumping blood.
  • Your doctor may want to know your ejection fraction (EF) to measure how much blood is leaving your heart each time it pumps to see if it is pumping correctly.
  • He or she can get this measurement through a few different tests, including an echocardiogram or cardiac catheterization.
  • An EF greater than or equal to 50 percent is normal.
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