How is heart failure diagnosed?

Before diagnosing heart failure, your doctor will examine you, listen to your heart, and arrange some or all of the following tests.

Natriuretic peptide: (often referred to as BNP or NT-proBNP). This is a blood test which measures the level of a protein called natriuretic peptide. This protein can indicate the level of difficulty that your heart is experiencing. It helps your doctor decide if your symptoms are caused by heart failure or something else.

Other blood tests: Examples of blood tests include a full blood count to look for anaemia or low blood iron levels, and a renal profile to see how well your kidneys are working. It is important for your doctor to know this when prescribing certain heart failure medicines.

ECG (Electrocardiogram): An ECG is a test in which small electrodes (stickers) are placed on your chest, ankles and wrists and attached to an ECG machine. This machine records the electrical activity within your heart. It can show if you have an abnormal heart rhythm or damage to the heart muscle.

Echocardiogram (echo or heart ultrasound): In this test a small probe is rubbed over your chest and takes pictures by ultrasound of your heart. The test shows how well your heart is working and whether or not you have heart failure.

Coronary angiogram: This test checks the blood supply to the heart. A problem with blood supply is a common cause of heart failure.

Cardiac MRI: A cardiac MRI is another way to assess the structure and function of your heart. It is not routinely done but your doctor may recommend that you have it. An MRI involves entering a hollow tube (like a tunnel) for about 30 minutes. If you get panicky in tight spaces, tell your doctor or nurse as you may find this test difficult to do.

Once the doctor has examined you and completed the tests, they will be able to tell you if you have heart failure or not. Many of these tests are also done in patients who are known to have heart failure as a way of checking the progress of their condition over time.