Diagnosing Congestive Heart Failure

Initial Tests Used in Making a Diagnosis

If you have signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure, your doctor may order the following tests:
  • EKG or ECG (electrocardiogram).This test is used to measure the rate and regularity of your heartbeat. It may show if you have had a heart attack or have thickening of the walls of the pumping chambers of the heart (ventricles).
  • Chest x-ray. A chest x-ray takes a picture of your heart and lungs. It can show if your heart is enlarged, if you have fluid in your lungs, or if you have lung disease.
  • BNP blood test. This new test checks the level of a hormone called BNP (B-type natriuretic peptide) that rises when heart failure is present.
If your doctor suspects congestive heart failure after the history, physical exam, and initial tests, he or she may refer you to a cardiologist.

Other Tests Used When Making a Congestive Heart Failure Diagnosis

A cardiologist is a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. The cardiologist will do a physical exam and order additional tests. The cardiologist may order any of the following tests:
  • Echocardiogram
  • Holter monitor
  • Cardiac blood pool scan
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Coronary angiography
  • Exercise stress test
  • Thyroid function tests.
An echocardiogram is the most useful test for making a congestive heart failure diagnosis. This test uses sound waves to create a picture of the heart. It shows how well the heart is filling with blood and pumping it to the rest of the body. It can also show the areas of your heart muscle that are not contracting normally.
Your doctor uses this test to determine which areas of your heart are damaged and causing it to not work properly. This is important, because more than one area of the heart can be damaged and contribute to congestive heart failure.
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Information on Congestive Heart Failure

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