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Questions About Heart Failure

The list of questions below can help you talk about heart failure with your doctor or nurse. The answers can help you understand heart failure better. Talking with your doctor or nurse will also help ensure that you are receiving the best possible care.

Always feel free to ask your doctor or nurse questions. You may want to have a family member or friend help you ask questions if you are not comfortable doing it alone.

Remember that an active partnership between you and your doctor and nurse makes for the best health care.

Do I have blockages in my coronary arteries?

Reason for asking this question: Coronary artery disease is the most common cause of heart failure. With this disease, blockages in the coronary arteries decrease or cut off the blood supply to portions of the heart muscle. Sometimes it is possible to open the blockages and restore the blood supply to the heart. This may improve heart function and reduce your symptoms. Knowing whether your heart failure is related to blocked coronary arteries can help your doctor plan the best treatment for you.

Is my blood pressure high? ____ (yes/no)

Is it under control? ____ (yes/no)

Reason for asking these questions: High blood pressure is a major cause of heart failure It can also make heart failure worse.

When someone has heart failure, it is wise to reduce the amount of strain on the heart in any way possible. Reducing blood pressure to normal levels is one important way to reduce strain on the heart. It is important for you to know your blood pressure and whether it is under control. That way you and your doctor can make sure it is managed well.

Are my heart valves damaged?

Reason for asking this question: Heart valve damage is another cause of heart failure. Sometimes, valve damage can be repaired so that heart failure improves. Therefore, it is important to know if your valves are damaged.

What is my heart function (ejection fraction)?

Reason for asking this question: Heart function is commonly assessed using a number called the ejection fraction. Some people mistakenly believe their ejection fraction indicates the amount of heart muscle that is still working. The ejection fraction refers to the percentage of blood that is pumped out of the heart each time it beats.

A heart does not pump all of the available blood out each time it beats. A normal heart pumps out or ejects only about 50-65% of the blood inside. If the heart is damaged, the ejection fraction frequently falls below 40%. This is called systolic heart failure. However, you can have a normal ejection fraction and still have heart failure. This may be related to a condition called diastolic heart failure.

An echocardiogram is the test most commonly used to evaluate heart function. The test will tell your doctor and you about your heart and heart valve function. Another test of heart function involves injecting a very small amount of radioactive material into your blood to produce images of your heart. This test is frequently called a radionucleide or MUGA scan.

It is important to know your heart function, because it is one way to determine the severity of your heart failure. It also helps guide your care. However, once your doctor has evaluated your heart function, it is not necessary to keep testing it.

You can learn more about how to take control of your heart failure by reading the other modules in this series.

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