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    Heart Failure Diagnosis

    To diagnose heart failure, your doctor will first ask you about your symptoms and medical history. He’ll want to know:

    Your doctor will also perform a complete physical exam. He’ll look for signs of heart failure as well as any other illnesses that may have caused your heart to weaken.

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    He may also order tests to figure out the cause and severity of your heart failure. These include:

    Blood tests: These look at the health of your kidneys and thyroid gland. They also check your cholesterol levels and whether you have anemia. Anemia happens when you don't have enough healthy red blood cells.

    B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) blood test: BNP is a substance your body makes when heart failure develops. The level of BNP in the blood goes up when heart failure symptoms worsen, and goes down when the heart failure is stable. The BNP level in a person with heart failure -- even someone whose condition is stable -- may be higher than in a person with a healthy heart.

    Chest X-ray: This shows the size of your heart. It also lets your doctor know if fluid is built up around the heart and lungs.

    Echocardiogram . This test, often called an "echo," shows your heart's movement. During an echo, a wand is placed on the surface of your chest. This wand sends ultrasound waves that show pictures of the heart's valves and chambers. Those pictures allow your doctor to look at the pumping action of your heart. Echo is often combined with tests called Doppler ultrasound and color Doppler to check blood flow across the heart's valves.  

    Your doctor will also want to know your ejection fraction, or EF. This is a measurement of how much blood is pumped out of the heart with each heartbeat.

    Ejection fraction (EF). A normal EF is between 55% and 75%, which means that over half of the blood volume is pumped out of the heart with each beat. Heart failure may happen because of a low EF (your doctor may call it systolic heart failure), or from another cause, like valve disorder or from diastolic dysfunction (the heart’s inability to relax). People with diastolic dysfunction can have a normal EF.

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