Heart Failure

Diagnosis & Tests

A person needs to tell their healthcare provider if they have any heart failure symptoms. This is very important if they have high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, or had a heart attack. 

The healthcare professional may be able to tell if a person’s heart isn’t pumping well or if they have fluid buildup by doing a physical exam which includes:

  • Listening to a person’s heart and lungs
  • Feeling the liver to see if it’s enlarged
  • Looking at the veins in a person’s neck to see if they are bulging. 

Common Heart Tests

A person will probably need additional tests to confirm the type of heart failure and its severity. And, to decide the best treatments. Some common heart tests are: 

Chest X-ray

A chest x-ray can show whether parts of the heart are enlarged, or if there is fluid buildup in the lungs. These can be signs of heart failure, a heart valve problem, or thickening of the heart muscle. 

Echocardiogram (or Echo”) and Echo Stress Test

This test uses ultrasound (sound waves) to create a picture of the inside of the heart while it’s beating.  This test often happens while a person is on a treadmill or exercise bicycle to see how the heart pumps during activity. 

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) and ECG Stress Test

This simple, painless test measures the heart’s electrical activity. It uses electrodes (wires) placed on the chest and other parts of the body.  A person might have the test while they are lying down or exercising on a treadmill or bicycle. If a person can’t exercise they might take a medication to make the heart pump harder to mimic exercise.

CT Coronary Angiogram

This special x-ray shows how the heart and the arteries that bring blood to your heart muscle are working. A person having this test will have:

  • Some radiation
  • An injection of dye
  • Sometimes a dose of a medication that slows their heart slightly.

Treatment of artery blockages is not possible during a CT angiogram

Nuclear Stress Test

A healthcare provider may order a nuclear stress test if a person has shortness of breath or chest pain. A person receives an injection of radioactive dye and pictures are taken of the heart while its resting.  More pictures may be taken when a person is exercising on a treadmill or stationary bicycle. If the person can’t exercise, they may receive an injection to speed up their heart.

These pictures will show if there are any damaged or enlarged areas in the heart or problems with the heart’s arteries. This stress test also measures how well the heart is pumping blood (this is called the ejection fraction).


Last Updated February 2023

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