How Do I Get a Diagnosis of Heart Failure?

To check if you have heart failure, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and may order some tests as well. Once he figures out what's going on, the two of you will work together to get the right treatment.

First, your doctor will want to know if you:

  • Have other conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, angina, high blood pressure, or other heart problems
  • Smoke
  • Drink alcohol, and how much
  • Take medications, and which ones

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


Your doctor may suggest you get some tests to find the cause of your heart failure and see how severe it is.

Blood tests. They look at the health of your kidneys and thyroid gland and measure your cholesterol levels. They also check if you have anemia, which 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 levels in your blood go up when your heart failure symptoms get worse.

Chest X-ray. This shows the size of your heart. It also lets your doctor know if there's a buildup of fluid around your heart and lungs.

Echocardiogram . This test, often called an "echo," shows your heart's movement. During this exam, your doctor places a wand on the surface of your chest. It sends ultrasound waves that show pictures of your heart's valves and chambers. Those images let your doctor look at how well your ticker is pumping.

Your doctor may combine an echocardiogram with tests called Doppler ultrasound and color Doppler to check blood flow across your heart's valves.  

Ejection fraction (EF). It's a measure of how much blood is pumped out of your heart each time it beats.  A normal amount 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.


Electrocardiogram  (EKG). This records the electrical impulses traveling through the heart. During the test, your doctor puts small, flat, sticky patches called electrodes on your chest. They are attached to a monitor that charts your heart's electrical activity on graph paper. This test can tell your heart rhythm and give a general roadmap of your heart's ability to pump blood.

Stress test. Your heart gets "stressed" when you walk on a treadmill or take medications that increase its pumping. It helps your doctor find clogged heart arteries.

Cardiac catheterization. This measures whether you have clogged heart arteries (called coronary artery disease). 

CT coronary angiogram. It uses an X-ray and a contrast dye to see if you have coronary artery disease. Your doctor can view images in 3-D, which lets him see blockages in your arteries.

Cardiac MRI. This less-commonly used test helps your doctor figure out if you have problems with your heart muscle or the tissues surrounding the heart.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on December 20, 2016



American Heart Association: "Common Tests for Heart Failure," "Symptoms & Diagnosis of Heart Failure."

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