Diagnosing and treating heart failure


The first test that helps diagnose heart failure is the echocardiogram (echo). It shows how the heart is working. It also shows the size and thickness of the heart. An echo helps doctors understand whether the problem is systolic heart failure or diastolic heart failure. Other tests your doctor may order include:

Chest X-ray
A picture of your heart and lungs. In heart failure, your heart may be enlarged. Also, fluid buildup may be seen in your lungs
Blood tests
Can show causes of heart failure and check your response to medicines
Electrodes are attached to your chest to show rhythm problems and past heart damage. This test is completely painless
Stress test
Shows blocked blood vessels in your heart. You might walk on a treadmill or take medicine to make your heart work harder
Right heart catheterization (cath)
Performed in the Cardiac Cath Lab. A tube is placed in a neck vein to measure pressures inside the heart
Cardiac MRI
A special X-ray that looks at the sizes of different parts of your heart
Cardiopulmonary exercise test (CPX)
Shows how well the heart and lungs take oxygen to the rest of the body

Signs and symptoms of heart failure

When the heart is unable to give your body the oxygen it needs, you may have these signs:

  • Shortness of breath when you are active or when you lie down
  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Swollen ankles or legs
  • Swelling in your stomach
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Symptoms with activity
  • Rapid or uneven heartbeat

Health problems that may make heart failure worse

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Diabetes
  • Atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm)
  • Depression
  • Feeling anxious
  • Sleep problems
  • Renal (kidney) problems or failure
  • Obesity
Last reviewed: 
May 2016

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