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Tests and Diagnosis

Common questions
to Ask

Bring this list of questions about treating heart failure to your next appointment with your doctor—and be sure to take notes during your conversation.



Find definitions of technical terms in our glossary.

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about diagnostic tests from the American Heart Association.

Receiving a Heart Failure Diagnosis

If your doctor suspects a heart failure diagnosis, he or she may order a variety of tests. The earlier you receive a heart failure diagnosis, the more effectively you and your doctor can work together to manage your heart failure for a longer, more active life. 

Tell your doctor:

  • About your symptoms—when they began, how often they happen, how long they last and what they feel like
  • Your medical history—if you have heart or lung problems, high blood pressure or thyroid dysfunction

Diagnostic tests

In addition to a physical exam, some common diagnostic tests for heart failure include: 

Blood test

Your doctor takes a sample of your blood to check your kidney and thyroid function. He or she also checks for the presence of a chemical called brain natriuretic peptide (BNP). The amount of BNP helps doctors determine how well your heart is working.

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

This test can take place in your doctor’s office. A health care professional places sticky electrodes on your wrists, ankles and chest for a few minutes to record your heart’s electrical activity. A machine records the timing and duration of your heartbeat’s electrical phases. Your doctor can study the results to see if there are abnormalities in your heart’s rhythm and electrical activity.


This ultrasound test records sound waves in your heart using a microphone-like attachment. Your doctor can see the size and shape of the heart, its pumping capacity and the location and extent of any tissue damage. 

Stress test

In this test, you walk on a treadmill (or pedal a stationary bike) while hooked up to sensors that record your heart’s electrical activity. If you are unable to use a treadmill or stationary bike, your doctor may use medication to simulate the effects of exercise on your heart.  

Chest X-ray

A chest X-ray is a radiographic image of your heart and lungs. It helps your doctor see if your heart is enlarged or contains fluid buildup.

Ejection Fraction (EF) test

The EF test measures how much blood your heart pumps with each beat. The doctor will test the left and right ventricles (they do the most pumping) to see how well the heart is functioning. Depending on the results, and even if your EF is normal but you have heart failure symptoms, your doctor may diagnose heart failure. 

Myocardial biopsy

In this test, your doctor inserts a small, flexible biopsy cord into a vein in your neck or groin. The cord is used to remove small pieces of the heart muscle for further testing to diagnose heart muscle diseases that cause heart failure.

Multiple-Gated Acquisition (MUGA) scan

The MUGA scan, also called a radionuclide ventriculography (RVG, RNV) or radionuclide angiography (RNA) scan, measures how well each chamber of the heart is working and if the heart muscle is getting enough blood. The MUGA scan can also detect if the heart has been damaged and where. To perform the scan, a technician injects a small amount of radioactive substance, called radionuclide, into the bloodstream through an intravenous line. This makes it possible to take computer-generated pictures inside the heart during rest or exercise.