Heart Failure: 3 Things You Can Do to Ensure an Accurate Diagnosis
When you or someone you're caring for is having symptoms of heart failure, it can be confusing and scary. Heart failure symptoms can be similar to symptoms of COPD and other cardiac conditions, so it's important to find out exactly what you're dealing with. Here are three steps to getting a clear and accurate diagnosis of heart failure (sometimes referred to as congestive heart failure).
1. Keep a good record of symptoms.
Because heart failure can affect so many bodily systems, the doctor will need to know as much as possible about symptoms. Keep a record of all the symptoms you're noticing, even if you're not sure they're heart related. When you notice any signs of fatigue, pain, sleep or breathing difficulties, lack of appetite, or other issues, write them down. Note the following:
- The date and time the symptom occurred
- How long it lasted
- What it felt like or what you observed
- How severe the symptom was
- How much it affected your or your loved one's quality of life
When it comes to a symptom such as pain or fatigue, the doctor may ask you to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10. If you're comfortable using a numeric system, rate each symptom as you write it down so you'll be ready to answer this question. Before your doctor visit, total up how often a particular symptom has been occurring, and if you've noticed any pattern, such as whether a symptom always occurs at night or after meals, or whether it's having an effect on mood. It's also important to keep track of any changes in weight and girth (waistline size).
2. Find the right doctor or specialist.
As a rule, look for a doctor who specializes in heart failure or has a great deal of experience managing this condition. This may be a cardiologist or a clinic that specializes in heart failure, or it may be a general practitioner or a geriatrician who has many patients with heart failure.
Note that although cardiologists specialize in heart conditions, many take an "interventionist" approach and are most comfortable ordering surgery and other procedures. When it comes to treating heart failure, this approach may not be the most helpful one, as your primary concern is going to be long-term symptom management, primarily with medications.
For anyone over age 80 seeing a cardiologist or a regular doctor, it can also help to add a geriatrician to his medical team who can double-check whether prescribed medications are appropriate for older patients and are in the right dosages.
When evaluating a doctor's personality and style, look for a doctor with a proactive approach who's optimistic about your or your loved one's potential to regain quality of life and therefore will be aggressive in pursuing this goal. Heart failure is notoriously undertreated. But with adequate treatment, it can reverse itself to some degree.
In fact, 27 percent of all heart failure patients experience some degree of reverse remodeling of the heart, which means the heart shrinks to closer to its normal size and regains some of its earlier strength and function. Once you've received a diagnosis of heart failure, you can move on to a treatment plan.