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Heart Failure

How Is Heart Failure Diagnosed?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 09:54

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

It's important for your doctor to determine whether you have heart failure or another condition that has similar symptoms. It's also important to find out what caused your heart failure, so the doctor will know how to treat it.

Nice To Know:

Your doctor will examine you carefully and listen to your heart and lungs. The doctor will want to know:

  • What are your symptoms?
  • How long have you had them?
  • What other health problems have you had, or do you have now?
  • Has anyone in your family had heart trouble?
  • How are your health habits-particularly with regard to smoking and drinking?
  • Have you gained weight suddenly? If so, that could show you have extra fluid in your body.

What Tests Will The Doctor Use?

The doctor may arrange for tests that include:

  • A chest x-ray
  • Blood and urine tests
  • An electrocardiogram (called an EKG), which provides information about electric current produced by the contraction of the heart. In this painless test, small sticky patches connected with wires to a computer are placed on your chest. The computer records the information from your heart.

The doctor may also arrange for:

  • An echocardiogram, which simply involves moving a probe across the chest. This painless test uses sound waves to make images of the heart in action. Doctors can see how well the heart is pumping, how well the valves are working, the thickness of the wall of the heart, and the size of the chamber.

Managing Your Heart Failure

Heart failure cannot be cured, but it can be successfully managed. Your health care team will design a plan to improve your quality of life and help you feel better.

In addition to your regular doctor, your health care team will include a cardiologist (heart specialist) and may also include a nurse, nutritionist (food specialist), health educator, and possibly an exercise specialist.

But you are the most important member of the team. If there is part of the plan you don't like, say so. And if you have any questions, ask!

Your Treatment Plan

Everyone's treatment plan for heart failure is different. Your individual plan may include some or all of the following:

  • Medication to strengthen your heart's pumping action, help blood flow better through blood vessels, or regulate your heartbeat
  • Changes in the amount of your physical activity
  • Setting limits on the amount of salt and fat in your diet
  • Increasing the potassium in your diet, if instructed
  • Losing weight if necessary
  • Reducing your fluid intake, if necessary

Heart Failure