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Heart Failure Symptoms & Diagnosis

Heart failure can leave you feeling tired and out of breath, keeping you from the activities you enjoy. At the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center, we have significant experience in recognizing the signs of heart failure. 

Our heart failure team brings together expertise from several fields of medicine to assess your health from their perspectives. We carefully evaluate you to determine the underlying cause and offer advanced testing to confirm a diagnosis. 

What Is Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a chronic (long-term) condition in which the heart weakens and doesn’t pump as well as it should. It usually results from other types of heart disease and health conditions that weaken and damage the heart. Learn more about the symptoms and causes of heart failure.

Diagnosing Heart Failure

Our cardiologists (heart specialists) evaluate you carefully to identify the exact causes of heart failure. By understanding the cause, our team can create a personalized treatment plan that works best for you. 

We begin by asking you about your symptoms, medical history and any risk factors. You’ll then have a complete physical exam. To help evaluate the condition and confirm a diagnosis, our cardiologists may recommend one or more tests for heart failure, such as:

Cardiac imaging

  • Echocardiogram (echo): An echo is a heart ultrasound, which uses sound waves to create video of your beating heart. An echo shows how well your heart works and its size, shape, any damaged areas and other details. Doppler ultrasound may also be used during an echo to show blood flow through the heart to the lungs.
  • Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI uses powerful magnets and radio waves to produce still images and video of the heart. We use cardiac MRI to check for damage to heart muscle and assess blood flow.
  • Cardiac computed tomography (CT) scan: Using a cardiac, or heart, CT scan, we can check for any conditions affecting your heart’s structure. Another use of CT is a coronary CT angiogram, a noninvasive study to check for blockages inside coronary arteries.
  • Cardiac positron emission tomography (PET) scan: You receive an injection of a small amount of radioactive tracer, which flows to your heart. A special camera shows the tracer in imaging. A cardiac PET scan can show blood flow to heart muscle and any tissue damage. 

Other diagnostic heart failure tests

  • Blood tests: We take a small sample of your blood to check for signs of diseases that affect the heart.
  • Coronary angiogram: This minimally invasive procedure shows blood flow to heart muscle and how well your heart pumps. From a tiny incision, we guide a catheter (thin, flexible tube) with a camera to the heart arteries to see these details.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG): This test records the heart’s electrical activity to check for irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias).
  • Holter monitor: You wear this portable EKG device to record your heart’s electrical activity over 24 to 48 hours. A Holter monitor can detect abnormal heartbeats that come and go or occur during certain activities.
  • Right heart catheterization: We perform a catheter procedure to measure blood pressures inside your heart and the main blood vessels of the lungs. Also called pulmonary artery catheterization, the procedure measures cardiac output, which is the amount of blood your heart pumps.
  • Stress test: We monitor you with EKG, echo or CT scan while you walk or run on a treadmill or ride a stationary bicycle. A stress test shows how well your heart works during physical activity.

Our Heart Failure Team

We’re the only team within several hundred miles of St. Louis with the expertise to perform advanced surgeries for people with late-stage heart failure. We’ve received national ranking in cardiology and heart surgery from U.S.News & World Report. 

Our heart failure team includes: 

  • cardiologists, doctors who diagnose and treat heart conditions with nonsurgical therapies
  • cardiac (heart) surgeons who perform surgeries to implant mechanical heart devices and provide heart transplants
  • electrophysiologists, cardiologists who specialize in diagnosing and treating heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias)
  • interventional cardiologists who perform minimally invasive procedures using catheters
  • specialized nurses with training and experience in cardiac care
  • other providers such as social workers, dietitians and physical therapists who provide treatment and support services 

Barnes-Jewish Hospital: Our Heart Failure Treatments

Washington University heart specialists at Barnes-Jewish Hospital have decades of experience diagnosing and treating heart failure and other heart diseases. We work closely together and with you to develop a customized treatment plan to improve your heart health and help prevent complications. Learn more about our heart failure treatments.

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University heart failure specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 888-230-8832.