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    Understanding Heart Failure -- Diagnosis and Treatment

    What Tests Are Used to Diagnose Heart Failure? continued...

    Cardiac MRIto distinguish scar from normal tissue and abnormalities in the heart muscle. This can also measure EF. This test is generally available only in large heart centers and is rarely used as a first step in heart disease diagnosis.

    Exercise stress test, an ECG performed while either walking on a treadmill, riding a stationary bike, or using medications to simulate exercise to check for any heart function problems brought on by exercise, which may indicate coronary artery disease.

    In addition, your doctor may perform a variety of more invasive tests, such as cardiac catheterization, to directly visualize the heart's chambers. This test can determine if coronary artery disease is present and can also provide a measure of EF.

    What Are the Treatments for Heart Failure?

    Treatment of heart failure focuses on slowing or reversing its progression. The earlier treatment starts, the better the outcome.

    After a diagnosis, your doctor will recommend a series of lifestyle changes. You may be asked to reach and maintain a healthy weight, increase your activity level (as recommended by your doctor), restrict salt intake, restrict fluid intake, and avoid alcohol. If you smoke or chew tobacco, you'll be advised to stop. You will need to work with your doctor to find the right balance of rest and activity -- mobility is important to keep blood circulating. You will also need to weigh yourself daily and record your weight to detect fluid retention.

    Your doctor will also prescribe several medications to manage your heart failure or the underlying problem that caused the heart failure. Drugs used to treat heart failure, often in combination, include:

    Diuretics or water pills to help the body eliminate excess salt and water. Examples include: bumetanide (Bumex),  chlorothiazide (Diuril), Microzide, Esidrix), furosemide (Lasix), hydrochlorothiazide (Hydrodiuril, indapamide (Lozol), metolazone (Zaroxolyn), spironolactone/hydrochlorothiazide (Aldactazide), spironolactone (Aldactone), torsemide (Demadex), and triamterene/hydrochlorothiazide (Maxide), and triamterene (Dyazide).

    ACE inhibitors , which have a multitude of beneficial effects in patients with heart failure, including serving as vasodilators -- they expand blood vessels and increase blood flow, thus helping the heart pump more efficiently. ACE inhibitors are important heart failure drugs since they have been shown to significantly prolong life and improve the quality of life for most people with heart failure. ACE inhibitors include:  captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), fosinopril (Monopril), lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril), quinapril (Accupril), ramipril (Altace) and trandolapril (Mavik).

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