Essentials of the diagnosis of heart failure

Am Fam Physician. 2000 Mar 1;61(5):1319-28.


Although heart failure is a common clinical syndrome, especially in the elderly, its diagnosis is often missed. A detailed clinical history is crucial and should address not only current signs and symptoms of heart failure but also signs and symptoms that point to a specific cause of the syndrome, such as coronary artery disease, hypertension or valvular heart disease. It is important to determine whether the patient has had a previous cardiac event, in particular a myocardial infarction. The physical examination should include Valsalva's maneuver, a test that is highly specific and sensitive for the detection of left ventricular systolic and diastolic dysfunction in patients with heart failure. An electrocardiograph and a chest radiograph should also be obtained. Two-dimensional echocardiography of the heart helps differentiate systolic from diastolic dysfunction. Coronary angiography is indicated in patients with heart failure and anginal chest pain and should be strongly considered in patients with an electrocardiogram suggestive of ischemia or myocardial infarction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Coronary Angiography
  • Decision Trees
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Echocardiography
  • Heart Failure / blood
  • Heart Failure / classification
  • Heart Failure / diagnosis*
  • Heart Failure / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Valsalva Maneuver
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Left / diagnosis
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Left / etiology