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Heart Failure Health Center

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Heart Failure - Topic Overview

How is heart failure diagnosed?

Your doctor may diagnose heart failure based on your symptoms and a physical exam. But you will need tests to find the cause and type of heart failure so that you can get the right treatment. These tests may include:


An echocardiogram is the best and simplest way to find out if you have heart failure, what type it is, and what is causing it. Your doctor can also use it to see if your heart failure is getting worse.

This test can measure how much blood your heart pumps to your body. This measurement is called the ejection fraction. If your ejection fraction gets lower and you are having more symptoms, it means that your heart failure is getting worse.

How is it treated?

Most people with heart failure need to take several medicines. Your doctor may prescribe medicines to:

  • Help keep heart failure from getting worse. These drugs include ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), beta-blockers, and vasodilators like hydralazine and a nitrate.
  • Reduce symptoms so you feel better. These drugs include diuretics (water pills), digoxin, and potassium.
  • Treat the cause of your heart failure.

It is very important to take your medicines exactly as your doctor tells you to. If you don't, your heart failure could get worse.

Pacemaker or defibrillator

You might need to have a pacemaker or a defibrillator (ICD) if you have a problem with your heart rhythm. A pacemaker can help your heart pump blood better. An ICD can prevent a dangerous heart-rhythm problem.

Care at home

Lifestyle changes are an important part of treatment. They can help slow down heart failure. They may also help control other diseases that make heart failure worse, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary artery disease.

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