In many cases, physicians diagnose
heart failure during a physical
examination. Readily identifiable signs are shortness of breath,
fatigue, and swollen ankles and feet. The physician also will check
for the presence of risk factors, such as hypertension, obesity, and a
history of heart problems.
Using a stethoscope, the physician can
listen to a patient breathe and identify the sounds of lung
congestion. The stethoscope also picks up the abnormal heart sounds
indicative of heart failure.
If neither the symptoms nor the
patient's history point to a clear-cut diagnosis, the physician may
recommend any of a variety of laboratory tests, including,
initially, an ECG, which uses recording devices placed on the
chest to evaluate the electrical activity of a patient's heartbeat.
Echocardiography is another
means of evaluating heart function from outside the body. Sound waves
bounced off the heart are recorded and translated into images. The
pictures can reveal abnormal heart size, shape, and movement.
Echocardiography also can be used to calculate a patient's ejection
fraction, a measure of the amount of blood pumped out when the heart
Another possible test is the chest x
ray, which also determines the heart's size and shape, as well as
the presence of congestion in the lungs.
Tests help rule out other possible
causes of symptoms. The symptoms of heart failure can result when the
heart is made to work too hard, instead of from damaged muscle.
Conditions that overload the heart occur rarely and include severe
anemia and thyrotoxicosis (a disease resulting from an overactive
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treatments for heart failure.