Evaluating your heart
To evaluate your heart, your doctor will examine you, ask questions and run tests. Along with looking for signs of heart failure, the doctor looks for any other health problems that may have caused your heart to weaken or stiffen. The results of the evaluation will help your doctor form a program to treat your heart.
Health history and physical exam
Your visit will start with a health history. Tell the doctor about any symptoms you've noticed. Bring a list of any medications you're taking for the doctor to look over. You may be asked about other health problems you've had. Then you'll have a physical exam. This includes listening to your heartbeat and breathing. You'll also be checked for edema, or swelling.
Diagnosing heart failure
To diagnose heart failure, the doctor must learn about your heart. You may have:
- X-rays which take pictures of your heart and lungs. This can show your heart's size and shape. X-rays can also show fluid in your lungs.
- An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), which records the way electrical signals travel through your heart. Small pads (electrodes) are placed on your chest, arms and legs. Wires connect the pads to the ECG machine, which records your heart's signals. This can show the pattern of your heartbeat.
- An echocardiogram, which uses ultrasound waves to show the structure and movement of your heart muscle. This shows how well the heart pumps. It also shows if the heart is enlarged, the thickness of the heart's walls and any valve problems.
- Lab tests, which evaluate small amounts of blood or urine for signs of problems. These tests can show if the kidneys and other organs are working properly. Levels of cholesterol and sugar in the blood may be checked. Your blood may also be tested for BNP, a hormone produced when the heart is overworked.
Other tests you may have
You may have other tests to help your doctor detect problems with your heart:
- Stress testing measures your heart's response to activity. This may be done while you walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike. Or, you may be given medication that stresses the heart. A stress test helps your doctor measure how hard your heart can work. An echocardiogram or other imaging test may be done before and after a stress test to see how your heart responds.
- Cardiac catheterization helps detect clogged blood vessels. X-ray dye is injected into the heart through a catheter (thin tube). Then, an angiogram (special type of x-ray) is taken of the blood vessels. Cardiac catheterization can also show problems with pumping, heart chambers, blood flow or valves.
- Holter monitoring can help detect an abnormal heartbeat. A portable monitor is connected to your chest with soft pads. The monitor records changes to your heart's rhythm over several hours or days.
Your treatment plan
Your doctor will use the results of your evaluation to develop a treatment plan. This plan is designed to relieve some of your symptoms and help make you more comfortable. Your treatment plan may include:
- Medications to help your heart work better and improve your quality of life. Baptist Northeast's Personal Medication Form can help you keep track of medicines you and your family members take.
- Changes in what you eat and drink to help prevent fluid from backing up into your body.
- Daily monitoring of your weight and heart failure symptoms to see how well your treatment plan is working.
- Exercise to help you stay healthy.
- Help with quitting smoking.