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Patients who are experiencing congestive heart failure can experience a variety of symptoms. Fluid can build up in the legs (edema), feet, lungs and abdomen (ascites). Additional symptoms may include:

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Diagnosis

Before your doctor can provide a diagnosis, several tests may be needed. Your doctor may order a blood test, a chest X-ray, an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), and/or an exercise test to monitor your heart rate during physical activity. There are many tests that can help your doctor determine the extent of your heart failure.

Blood Test

A blood test can help your doctor identify conditions that might be contributing to your heart failure. It can measure the level of cholesterol, hormones, medications, and proteins that might be affecting your heart rate. The presence and the amount of B-Type Natriuretic Peptide (BNP) in your blood can indicate the extent of heart failure. Levels below 100pg/mL are good; a level of 300pg/mL is usually an indication of heart failure.

ECG/EKG

For an electrocardiogram, your doctor will put small electrical sensors on your chest and arms. The recorded electrical signals will help identify patterns. An ECG/EKG can be done in a physician’s office, a clinic, or hospital. Before the test, talk to your physician about any medications you are taking and remove all of your jewelry. Men will have to remove their shirts and women may be asked to wear gowns. The areas where the electrodes are attached will need to be clean and may need to be shaved to adhere properly. The test takes five to 10 minutes and will require you to lie still, not talk, and breathe normally.

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Multigated Acquisition Scan (MUGA)

A MUGA scan is used to see how well your ventricles are pumping. It’s also called a blood pool scan or an equilibrium radionuclide angiogram. Electrodes–small electrical sensors–will be attached to your chest. Men will have to remove their shirts and women may be asked to wear gowns. The areas where the electrodes are attached will need to be clean and may need to be shaved to adhere properly. A radioactive tracer is injected through an IV line in your arm. The tracer makes it easy for a special camera to take pictures of your heart while it’s beating. The test only takes one to two hours and you can resume your normal activities immediately afterward.

Exercise Test

To see what happens to your heart rate during physical activity, your doctor may ask you to perform an exercise or “stress” test. Your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure will be monitored while you walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike. Wires from an ECG/EKG machine will be attached to your chest, arms or shoulders and your heartbeats will be recorded. This will show your doctor how your heart responds to greater activity levels. To prepare for a stress test, make sure to wear shoes and clothing that will be comfortable for light exercise.

Other Diagnosis Methods

Cardiac Catheterization – Cardiac catheterization is also a helpful diagnostic tool. It requires the insertion of tubes (catheters) into your blood vessels and injection of a dye that will help identify any blockages in the arteries.

Chest X-Ray – An X-ray of your chest can show the size of your heart and whether there is any fluid surrounding your heart and lungs.

Ejection Fraction (EF) – Measuring EF during an echocardiogram or EKG/ECG can show your doctor how well the heart squeezes or contracts. A normal EF is between 50-75%. In patients with heart failure, the EF may be less than 35%.

Treatment

The treatment for heart failure will depend on the stages identified by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. Those stages identify the existence of your symptoms and any limitations you may be experiencing as a result of your heart failure.

Living With

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