Congestive Heart Failure: Diagnostic Testing

Majdi Ashchi, DO, FACC, FSCAI, FABVM, FSVM
Medical Director

To determine whether you have heart failure, your healthcare team may do some or all of these diagnostic tests and procedures.

  • Blood tests. a sample of your blood to check your kidney, liver and thyroid function and to look for indicators of other diseases that affect the heart. A blood test to check for a chemical called N-terminal pro-B-type natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP) may help in diagnosing heart failure if the diagnosis isn’t certain when used in addition to other tests.
  • Chest X-ray. X-ray images help your doctor see the condition of your lungs and heart. In heart failure, your heart may appear enlarged and fluid buildup may be visible in your lungs. Your doctor can also use an X-ray to diagnose conditions other than heart failure that may explain your signs and symptoms.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). This test records the electrical activity of the heart through electrodes attached to your skin. Impulses are recorded as waves and displayed on a monitor or printed on paper. This test helps diagnose heart rhythm problems and damage to your heart from a heart attack that may be underlying heart failure.
  • Echocardiogram. An important test for diagnosing heart failure is the echocardiogram. An echocardiogram helps distinguish systolic heart failure from diastolic heart failure in which the heart is stiff and can’t fill properly. An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce a video image of your heart. This test can help size and shape of your heart and how well your heart is pumping. The echocardiogram also can help doctors look for valve problems or evidence of previous heart attacks, other heart abnormalities, and some unusual causes of heart failure. The ejection fraction is measured during an echocardiogram and can also be measured by nuclear medicine tests, cardiac catheterization and cardiac MRI. This is an important measurement of how well your heart is pumping and is used to help classify heart failure and guide treatment.
  • Stress test. Stress tests measure how your heart and blood vessels respond to exertion. It is a test of demand and supply for your arteries. You may walk on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bike while attached to an ECG machine. Or you may receive a drug intravenously that stimulates your heart similar to exercise. Sometimes the stress test can be done while wearing a mask that measures the ability of your heart and lungs to take in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Stress tests help doctors see if you have coronary artery disease. Stress tests also determine how well your body is responding to your heart’s decreased pumping effectiveness and can help guide long-term treatment decisions.
  • Cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tests can be used to diagnose heart problems, including causes of heart failure. In a cardiac CT scan, you lie on a table inside a doughnut-shaped machine. An X-ray tube inside the machine rotates around your body and collects images of your heart and chest. In a cardiac MRI, you lie on a table inside a long tube-like machine that produces a magnetic field. The magnetic field aligns atomic particles in some of your cells. When radio waves are broadcast toward these aligned particles, they produce signals that vary according to the type of tissue they are. The signals create images of your heart.
  • Coronary angiogram. In this test, a thin, flexible tube (catheter) is inserted into a blood vessel at your groin or in your arm and guided through the aorta into your coronary arteries. A dye injected through the catheter makes the arteries supplying your heart visible on an X-ray. This test helps doctors identify narrowed arteries to your heart (coronary artery disease) that can be a cause of heart failure. The test may include a ventriculogram — a procedure to determine the strength of the heart’s main pumping chamber (left ventricle) and the health of the heart valves (mitral valve or aortic valve).
  • Myocardial biopsy. In this test, your doctor inserts a small, flexible biopsy cord into a vein in your neck or groin, and small pieces of the heart muscle are taken. This test may be performed to diagnose certain types of heart muscle diseases that cause heart failure.

 

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