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Diagnosis of Heart Failure

Early diagnosis and treatment can help people who have heart failure live longer, more active lives. At the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute, specialists diagnose heart failure based on your medical and family history, a physical exam and test results. They will examine you for the conditions that can cause heart failure – coronary heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes – and rule out other causes of your symptoms.

No single test can diagnose heart failure. If you have signs and symptoms of heart failure, the affiliated specialists at the Center for Advanced Heart Failure will recommend one or more tests:

  • An electrocardiogram (EKG) records the heart’s electrical activity, shows how fast your heart is beating and may show whether the walls in your heart’s pumping chambers are thicker than normal, making it harder for your heart to pump blood.
  • A chest X-ray can show whether your heart is enlarged, you have fluid in your lungs or have lung disease.
  • A BNP blood test checks the level of brain natriuretic peptide in your blood; BNP is a hormone that increases during heart failure.
  • An echocardiogram uses sound waves to create a moving picture of your heart, showing how well the chambers of your heart and valves work.
  • Doppler ultrasound uses sound waves to measure the speed and direction of blood flow.
  • A Holter monitor records your heart’s electrical activity for a 24- or 48-hour period as you continue your normal routine.
  • A nuclear heart scan shows how well blood is flowing through your heart and how much blood is reaching your heart muscle.
  • Cardiac catheterization allows your specialist to check the pressure and blood flow in your heart.
  • Coronary angiography is done during catheterization and uses a dye that allows your heart specialist to see the flow of blood to the heart muscle.
  • A stress test, during which you walk or run on a treadmill or pedal a bicycle, allows your doctor to see how your heart functions when it’s beating fast.
  • Cardiac MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can show if parts of your heart are damaged.