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If you have previously had a heart attack, your doctor is likely to arrange an urgent appointment for you with a specialist (a cardiologist) who can conduct further tests; this is just because of your previous heart history1. Those with no previous history are likely to undergo some simple tests with their doctor before being referred to a specialist1. This would be expected to take a little longer than an urgent appointment1.
Diagnosing a person with heart failure can be a long process. Many of the symptoms are non-specific, meaning they can be observed in other diseases, because of this your doctor has to conduct specific tests to make sure what you are experiencing is heart failure1. It is usually a generalist doctor (the one you would be likely to see at your local clinic) who will kick start the diagnosis process and from there they will refer you to a specialist1. The heart is a complicated organ and getting a heart failure diagnosis may take some time because other conditions need to be ruled out too.
Doctors use a number of tools to diagnose heart failure, including2:
A physical examination may include taking a pulse, blood pressure measurement or a breathing test among others tests that can help to indicate general health and signs of heart failure3.
A blood test can test for many things4. In this case, it can show if there is anything in your blood that could indicate heart failure as well as kidney and liver function4.
An Electrocardiogram (ECG) is a painless test that measures the electrical activity of your heart. It shows whether your heart is beating too fast or too slow2. It is used to investigate symptoms of heart problems and can help detect cardiac conditions5.
An Echocardiogram is an ultrasound scan, which uses sound waves to create an image of the heart2. It is a painless procedure, which can show the size of the heart, how well it is pumping, and the condition of its valves2.
An X-ray is useful way of showing the size and the shape of the heart2.
If you feel you have not been given enough information about your heart failure diagnosis, ask for more!
Heart failure is a manageable condition, improving your diet, increasing exercise and managing your treatment with a doctor will help to reduce the strain on your heart, slowing down the progression of the condition6. Adopting a healthier lifestyle will often mean that a person with heart failure can continue to lead a normal life for as long as possible7.
Treatment options include7:
Treatments for heart failure are a big part of managing the condition and help to compliment lifestyle changes; however, they are not a substitute for exercise, good diet and quitting smoking. It is very important to talk to your doctor about available treatment options. They can help you if you are having trouble taking your medicines or understanding when and how to take them6. In addition to talking to your doctor, here are some tips on managing your treatment plan:
Learn about more ways to help manage heart failure >
In addition to medicines, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes. Read here for tips.
Have you come across these common heart failure myths?
Watch videos of people managing life with heart failure. Read about lifestyle, diet, exercise, and more.
1) NICE. Chronic heart failure in adults: management. Available here: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg108/ifp/chapter/diagnosis-of-heart-failure. Last accessed January 2020.
2) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Heart failure. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-failure. Last accessed January 2020.
3) Cardiology Advisor. Diagnosis of Heart Failure by History and Physical Examination. Available at: https://www.thecardiologyadvisor.com/cardiology/diagnosis-of-heart-failure-by-history-and-physical-examination/article/584315/. Last accessed January 2020.
4) NHS. Examples blood tests. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/blood-tests/types/. Last accessed January 2020.
5) NHS. Electrocardiogram. Available here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/electrocardiogram/. Last accessed January 2020.
6) British Heart Foundation (BHF). Heart failure. Available here: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/conditions/heart-failure. Last accessed January 2020.
7) NHS Choices. Heart failure. Available here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-failure/. Last accessed January 2020.