Blood tests: Blood tests may include: blood cell counts to test for conditions such as anemia (low red blood cells); electrolyte levels, including sodium, potassium, and calcium; nutrient levels, such as vitamins and trace minerals; tests for kidney function, including blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine levels; and testing for homocysteine and/or C-reactive protein (CRP), both markers of inflammation and heart disease. The diagnostic test marker for CHF is N-terminal prohormone brain natriuretic peptide or NT-proBNP. Brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) is a hormone produced at higher levels by the failing heart muscle.
Echocardiogram: Echocardiogram, or echo, is an ultrasound examination of the heart that produces detailed images of the organ. It can be used to detect abnormalities in the structure of the heart and to measure the amount of blood ejected from the heart. During an echocardiogram, a microphone-like device (transducer) is used to transmit and receive ultrasonic waves that travel through the chest wall to the heart and are reflected back to the transducer. The reflected sound waves are translated into images of the heart, including the valves, chambers, and walls.
Chest x-ray: A chest x-ray is used in identifying the buildup of fluid in the lungs. Also, the heart usually enlarges in CHF, which may be visible on the x-ray film.
Cardiac catheterization: Cardiac catheterization may be performed in individuals with angina and in those with a history of heart attack to determine if coronary heart disease (CHD) is causing heart failure. Cardiac catheterization produces angiograms (such as x-ray images) of the coronary arteries and the left ventricle, and can be used to monitor heart function.
Nuclear stress test: Nuclear stress tests involve injecting a radioactive substance, most commonly technetium or Tc-99m sestamibi (Cardiolite®), into a vein. A special camera is then used to obtain images of the heart during rest and immediately following exercise on a treadmill as the radioactivity flows through the heart. The radioactivity levels used are not harmful.
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