Medical history and physical examination

The first thing a doctor will do if they suspect you have heart failure is take your medical history and carry out a thorough examination of your body. This is important to identify your current symptoms, but also to try to identify the possible cause of your heart failure. During a medical history and physical examination your doctor will ask you about symptoms, recent or past illnesses, physical activity, breathing, sleeping, eating and other activities. Once the doctor has completed your medical history, he or she will carry out a physical examination. The parts of the physical examination that are most helpful in diagnosing heart failure are:

  • Measuring your blood pressure and pulse. High blood pressure puts extra stress on the heart and a fast and/or irregular heart rate could indicate the heart is trying to pump faster to compensate.
  • Assessing skin colour and warmth.
  • Checking the veins in your neck. If blood is backing up in your heart, the veins in your neck may swell or bulge.
  • Listening to your breathing and heart with a stethoscope. A crackling sound on the lungs or wheezing may indicate fluid accumulation in the lungs. Abnormal heart sounds (murmurs) can reveal valve defects.
  • Checking your abdomen for swelling caused by fluid accumulation.
  • Checking your ankles and legs for swelling caused by fluid accumulation.
  • Measuring your body weight.

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ESC Guidelines for Heart Failure

What patients need to know

This guide for patients from the European Society of Cardiology aims to provide an overview of the latest evidence-based recommendations for the diagnosis and treatment of heart failure.

In particular, it should help patients to understand the:

  • main types of heart failure
  • medicines used to treat heart failure
  • devices that may be appropriate
  • importance of rehabilitation
  • management by a multidisciplinary team
  • importance of self-care in managing your own condition

Learn more


A series of 9 simple, captivating animations explaining heart failure and its treatment.

These narrated animations explain how a healthy heart works, what happens to it in heart failure and how various treatments work to improve your health.


In this section you can watch, listen or read interviews with other people with heart failure and their caregivers.


and share your own views and experiences with other patients, families and caregivers. is a European Society of Cardiology website

The website was developed under the direction of the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). The ESC is a world leader in the discovery and dissemination of best practices in cardiovascular medicine. Our members and decision-makers are healthcare professionals who volunteer their time and expertise to represent professionals in the field of cardiology in Europe and beyond.

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