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Tests for Diagnosis and Ways of Treating Heart Failure

Tests for Diagnosis and Ways of Treating Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure, or simply “heart failure”, is a condition wherein the heart doesn’t pump blood throughout the body as effectively as it should. The most common warning signs include breathlessness, fatigue, and swollen legs and ankles. If you experience these symptoms, it’s best to go to your doctor for diagnosis, and of course, to learn the ways of treating congestive heart failure.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heart Failure

Tests to Diagnose Congestive Heart Failure

Diagnosis is crucial to ascertain the ways of treating congestive heart failure, so expect that the doctor will order some of the following screening procedures.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

Before they can come up with congestive heart failure treatment guidelines, the doctor will most likely order an ECG..

  • In this procedure, you will be asked to remove your upper clothing and lie down, so the healthcare practitioner can attach the round plastic discs (electrodes) to your chest.
  • When the ECG starts, the electrodes will plot your heart’s electrical activity – which is seen as somewhat of a line graph – into a strip of graphed paper.

What the doctor will look for

The doctor will then check if there are abnormalities in the rhythm of your heart by looking at the ECG results.

Please note that an ECG is not a confirmatory test for heart failure. The doctor will normally use it to check your heart’s rhythm, which is typically affected if congestive heart failure is present.

There are also times when patients with heart failure show normal ECG results. Hence, other tests may be necessary to confirm diagnosis.

Diagnosis and treating congestive heart failure

Chest X-ray

Diagnosis through x-ray is also common to find ways in treating congestive heart failure. In this procedure, you need to:

  • Remove any metal objects from your body and inform the radiologist if you have implants.
  • Remove your upper clothing and wear the gown provided by the facility.
  • Stay still. The radiologist will take your x-ray while you’re standing or lying down.

What the doctor will look for

Generally, the doctor will look for two things: heart enlargement and the presence of fluid in the lungs (congestion), both of which are common manifestations of congestive heart failure.

To explain, heart enlargement happens because the heart is overworking itself to be able to pump blood throughout the body.

Think of it as a muscle that’s getting too much exercise, causing it to “bulk up”.

The problem with an enlarged heart is that it’s weaker, and so the blood can regurgitate back into the vein that takes blood through the lungs.

This increases pressure and brings fluid into the lungs, causing congestion.

diagnosis and treating congestive heart failure


Just like an x-ray, an echocardiogram is also an imaging test, only it works using ultrasound – silent sound waves that produce images.

In this painless test, the technician will just ask you to lie still while they move the device over your chest. The silent sound waves then produce images that will show your heart and how it pumps blood.

What the doctor will look for

The doctor will note your heart’s size and shape along with its ejection fraction.

Ejection fraction is the measure of how well your heart is pumping blood throughout the body. Doctors check for it by determining how much blood is pumped with each heartbeat.

As mentioned, heart failure may show an enlarged heart. On the other hand, the ejection fraction has percentages; the normal result is 55 to 70%.

Exercise Stress Test

In making congestive heart failure treatment guidelines, doctors need to see how well your heart responds to the stress of exercise through a stress test.

In this diagnostic test, you will:

  • Have heart monitor equipment (often an ECG) attached to your chest. This will measure your heart rate, rhythm, blood pressure, and breathing.
  • Walk slowly on the treadmill. After a while, the treadmill will pick up speed.
  • Keep going for as long as you can, but don’t hesitate to take a break if it becomes too much for you.
  • Through the monitor, the doctors will be able to check your heart’s condition as the test progresses.
  • After the test, lie down and let the practitioners assess your condition.

What the doctor will look for

The doctors will assess how your heart responds to the stress of exercise and may be able to determine if your heart is receiving enough blood supply.

Most of the time, doctors also use the stress test to identify which workouts are good for you.

Blood Test

Aside from imaging screening and stress tests, the doctor may also order a blood test to look for indicators that point to heart failure, like high levels of cholesterol and anemia.

They might also check for the presence of N-terminal pro-B-type natriuretic peptide, a hormone commonly produced by patients suffering from congestive heart failure.

Important Facts About Congestive Heart Failure

How to Treat Congestive Heart Failure

After learning about the diagnosis, let’s now discuss the ways of treating congestive heart failure.

Primarily, there are three ways to manage congestive heart failure: lifestyle changes, medications, and surgery.

Lifestyle Changes

Congestive heart failure treatment guidelines include lifestyle changes such as:

  • Choosing a physical activity that is appropriate for your heart’s current condition.
  • Transitioning to a healthier diet, preferably with low fat and sodium
  • Quitting smoking and limiting the intake of alcohol
  • Losing weight
  • Reducing stress
  • A frequent and regular check-up with your doctor

Lifestyle Changes to Improve Your Heart Health


The doctor may also advise you to take medications to strengthen your heart’s pumping force.

There may also be prescribed drugs to lessen the heart’s workload by reducing sodium and water in the body and dilating blood vessels.

Some of the common medications are:

  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) to widen blood vessels and improve blood flow.
  • Beta-blockers that lower blood pressure and reduce blood flow.
  • Diuretics which promote urination; this reduces excess fluid in the body.
  • Anti-arrhythmic drugs that promote normal blood rhythm.


It’s also possible that after diagnosis, treating congestive heart failure may require surgery. Some of the possible operations are:

  • Coronary artery bypass graft or angioplasty. This surgery aims to “bypass” the blockage in an artery to let the blood flow without a problem. Surgeons do this by taking a healthy blood vessel from another part of the body and attaching it to the open part of a blocked artery.
  • Valve repair and revascularization. The goal of this surgery is to improve cardiac function by reducing heart size.
  • Implants. Sometimes, the doctor may also order the implantation of devices like pacemakers. Pacemakers promote regular heartbeat.
  • Heart transplant. In cases of severe heart failure, a heart transplant may be necessary. However, this surgery is a little difficult to achieve due to the shortage of donors.

Key Takeaways

Getting a correct diagnosis and finding strategies in treating congestive heart failure cannot be accomplished without the help of your physician.

For this reason, you must seek medical help right away once you notice the warning signs of congestive heart failure.

Learn more about Heart Failure here.


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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Jan 07
Medically reviewed by John Paul Ferolino Abrina, M.D.