What Tests Are Used to Diagnose Heart Failure?

If you suspect that you might have the signs and symptoms of heart failure at any stage, it is very important to make an appointment with your doctor to talk about it. Here are some of the ways heart failure is diagnosed.

Initial doctors appointment

Your doctor will ask you a lot of questions about your past medical history including any and all family history of heart problems and other issues. They will also ask about your symptoms, how long they have been occurring. They will take your blood pressure, height, and weight as well. A stethoscope will be used to listen to your heart and lungs and depending on how severe the heart failure might be, your doctor will be able to hear the backup of fluid. You will be examined from head to toe to look for any swelling (edema) which is most commonly seen in the legs, ankles, and feet.

Lab tests

Bloodwork can be very valuable when testing for heart failure. Here is a run-through of the most common tests.

BNP (B-type natriuretic peptide)

This is a test to measure the amount of protein BPN that is made by the heart.  Higher than normal BNP levels can indicate heart failure.

Thyroid levels

Both lower and higher than normal thyroid levels can cause heart failure.

CBC (complete blood count)

Sometimes if a person has anemia, the symptoms can mimic heart failure but can also contribute to the development of it.

Other blood tests

There are two other tests that are newer to the diagnosing toolbox and they are thE ST2 and Galectin-3. These are proteins and when the biomarkers are increased, it can mean that a person is more susceptible to complications of heart failure and will more than likely need aggressive treatment.

Other testing

There are many other tests used to identify heart failure besides blood tests. Here are some of the most common.

Chest x-ray

If a person has heart failure, oftentimes the heart will be seen as enlarged as well as having fluid in the lungs on a chest x-ray.

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

This is a quick and simple test to check your heart rhythm and electrical activity. There are ten stickers that are placed on the chest and arms/legs and then ten wires with little clips on the ends attach to the stickers which take the rhythm reading.

Echocardiogram (echo)

An echo is basically an ultrasound of the heart. It can see if the heart's structure, as well as the chambers and valves, are working. It shows how thick the heart muscle is and how well the heart contracts. This is how a person’s ejection fraction is determined.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

MRI can show if there has been damage from a heart attack as well as how the blood flows through the heart.

Exercise stress test

This is most often done on a treadmill. You will be hooked up to a monitor so the doctor can see how your heart reacts when it is stressed. The treadmill starts slow and every few minutes increases in speed and incline until a target heart rate is achieved. This test can be done with medication instead of walking on a treadmill for people who are unable to exercise.

Cardiac catheterization

A catch is done to visualize any blockages and/or narrowing within the heart which can lead to weakened heart muscle from the reduced amount of blood flow.

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