Your Doctor's Exam for Heart Failure

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on June 18, 2020

Some standard and simple things give your doctor their first clues on how well your heart works.

During your visit, your doctor will:

Heart Failure and Your Appearance

Your doctor will look at your appearance while you sit, perform mild activity, and lie flat. People with mild or moderate heart failure may appear comfortable at rest, but when active, they often become short of breath. Folks with heart failure may become uncomfortable if they lie flat for a few minutes.

Heart Failure and Heart Rate

Your doctor feels your pulse to check your heart's rate, rhythm, and regularity. Each pulse matches with a heartbeat that pumps blood into your arteries. The force of the pulse also helps to tell them the amount of blood flow to different areas of your body.

You can find out how fast your heart is beating by feeling your pulse. Your heart rate is the amount of times your heart beats in one minute.


To measure your pulse, all you need is a watch with a second hand.

Place your index and middle finger of your hand on the inner wrist of the other arm, just below the base of the thumb. You should feel a tapping or pulsing against your fingers.

Count the number of taps you feel in 10 seconds, then multiply that number by six to find out your heart rate for 1 minute (pulse in 10 seconds x 6 = number of beats per minute).

When feeling your pulse, you can also tell if your heart rhythm is regular or not.

Heart Failure and Your Heartbeat

Your doctor listens to your heart with a stethoscope. The opening and closing of your valves make a "lub dub" sound known as heart sounds. The doctor can evaluate your heart and its valves and hear your heart's rate and rhythm by listening to your heart sounds.

Heart Failure and Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force or pressure against the arteries by the blood as it’s pumped around the body.


It is recorded as two measurements:

Systolic is the pressure in the arteries when the heart squeezes (the higher number).

Diastolic is the pressure in the arteries when the heart relaxes between heartbeats (the lower number).

Normal blood pressure for an adult, relaxed at rest, is 100-120 over 80. The 100-120 is the systolic pressure; the diastolic pressure is 80. Blood pressure readings are written like fractions. For example, 120/80.

Blood pressure may go up or down depending on your:

One high reading doesn’t mean you have high blood pressure. You have to measure your blood pressure at different times while resting to find out your typical value.

Heart Failure and the Physical Exam

Your doctor can also tell about your heart's health by examining other parts of your body like your arms, legs, and skin.

Your doctor may look for fluid in the lungs with a stethoscope. People with heart failure may also have enlarged neck veins, swelling of the legs or abdomen, or an enlarged liver.

Heart Failure and Blood Tests

Your doctor may recommend blood tests to check your cholesterol and other things that may signal heart disease.

WebMD Medical Reference



American Heart Association: "Heart Failure."

Heart Failure Society of America: "Learn More About Heart Failure."

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: "How Is Heart Failure Diagnosed?"


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