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Heart failure diagnosis

Heart failure is diagnosed by a doctor. To determine heart failure a doctor will take a detailed medical history and conduct a number of tests.

A doctor will be looking for signs of fluid build up in the heart and lungs along with any abnormal heart signs.

Symptoms of heart failure can occur slowly and mimic other health conditions. Sometimes symptoms of heart failure can be overlooked or dismissed as simple tiredness.

Over time heart failure symptoms get worse. Even doing simple tasks like getting dressed can make a person with heart failure short of breath. 

For others symptoms of heart failure can occur quickly. In a medical emergency heart failure may be suspected on symptoms alone.

Common symptoms of heart failure include:

  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Swelling (edema) in the ankles, legs or abdomen
  • Problems breathing when resting or lying down
  • Frequent dry irritating cough
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dizziness

A doctor will want to find out the cause and type of heart failure and its severity.


Heart failure tests

A number of tests can help determine heart function and diagnose heart failure including:

  •  Echocardiogram - ultrasound waves that come from a small handheld device placed on the chest produce a picture of the heart's chambers and valves. 
  •  Electrocardiogram (ECG) - leads are placed on the chest, arms and legs to measure the electrical impulses as they travel through the heart.
  •  Angiogram - A catheter (tube) is placed in an artery of the arm or leg towards the heart. Dye is injected into the coronary arteries and heart chambers as an X-ray is taken to determine the condition of the arteries and heart.
  •  Chest X-ray - will show the size of the heart and if fluid has built up in the heart and lungs.

People with diabetes, existing heart problems, angina (chest pain), high blood pressure or kidney disease should let the doctor know.

A doctor will also want to know what medications if any a person suspected of having heart failure is currently taking.

Click here to see: Heart failure treatment

Related articles



Heart Foundation
Heart Failure Diagnosis
Accessed 25/05/09

NIH Senior Health
Heart Failure
Accessed 25/05/09


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