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Heart failure diagnosis

If you have symptoms of heart failure, your doctor will ask you to describe them in detail and you will have a physical examination.

Common symptoms of heart failure or chronic heart failure include shortness of breath, swelling of the ankles or belly, weight loss or weight gain, tiredness, loss of appetite, dizziness and coughing.

If your doctor thinks you may have heart failure, you will probably need to have tests to find out more. These will include:

  • Echocardiogram (an 'echo') – this test uses ultrasound waves that come from a small handpiece placed on your chest wall or via your oesophagus (the part of the digestive system that connects the throat to the stomach). These waves bounce back to a detector and produce a picture of the heart as it beats, allowing your doctor to see the structure of your heart and how well it is working.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) – an ECG is a reading of your heart’s electrical impulses taken from electrical leads placed on your chest and limbs. It can be used to diagnose a heart attack or abnormal heart rhythms (called ‘arrhythmias’).
  • Angiogram – this is a special X-ray that shows whether or not your coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked. Under a local anaesthetic, a small tube (catheter) is inserted into an artery in your arm or groin and guided into the heart. Dye is injected through the catheter into the coronary arteries and X-rays are taken. The X-rays give detailed information about the condition of these arteries.  
  • Chest X-rays.
  • Blood tests – to check if there is anything in your blood that might indicate a risk of heart failure or some other related illness.

Last reviewed: September 2016

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