Heart Failure Diagnosis
Christopher M. Wright, MD, is a cardiologist and internist at Banner Desert Medical Center. For more information on this topic, consult your physician or call Dr. Wright’s office at 480-345-0034.
Question: I’m aware that heart failure occurs when the heart becomes damaged and can’t pump blood efficiently, but how is the condition usually diagnosed?
Answer: A patient with heart failure often complains of symptoms that have developed over time, such as difficulty breathing, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, swelling in the abdomen or legs and ankles, heart palpitations, or chest pain.
Though the patient’s symptoms usually occur slowly, occasionally they will develop very quickly. Patients not under the care of a cardiologist will typically be referred to one for further evaluation, to assess for congestive heart failure and other conditions such as heart valve problems or coronary artery disease.
The cardiologist can conduct numerous tests to examine the patient and determine the cause of the symptoms. An echocardiogram, a non-invasive test that provides images of the heart through ultrasound technology, is used most frequently to diagnose heart failure. The echocardiogram, or echo, also helps identify the cause of the heart failure and is useful in monitoring the condition’s progression and response to treatment.
In addition to the echo, the cardiologist may suggest a cardiac stress test, a CT scan of the heart, or an angiogram through catheterization to further evaluate the patient. The cardiologist may ask the patient to get blood tests to look for substances in the blood that may reveal congestive heart failure, and monitor how the rest of the body is coping with the condition. The imaging and lab tests together paint a picture of how well the patient’s heart is performing relative to the symptoms, and help guide the cardiologist in determining the most effective treatment approach.