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Diagnosing and Classifying Heart Failure with the BNP Lab Test

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski•edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski•updated: 5/4/2010

The BNP lab test is a useful tool for helping doctors to diagnose heart failure. Find out how the test is used.

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    Doctors have a wide variety of tools available to help them diagnose and monitor medical conditions and injuries. Heart failure is a very complicated and serious condition that can be brought on by a number of factors. Medical professionals must used diagnostic procedures, physical examinations, and laboratory tests to determine if a patient has heart failure. These tools can also be used to determine the level of heart failure a patient has. Obtaining BNP and NT-proBNP levels can help doctors differentiate between heart failure and other conditions.

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    How the Test is Used

    While heart failure can often be diagnosed by assessing a patient and using diagnostic tools, it can still be confused with other conditions. Patient assessments for heart failure are often done to determine if edema (swelling), shortness of breath, or difficulty in breathing are present. However, these signs and symptoms can be present in a wide variety of other ailments including allergic reactions and kidney failure. Echocardiography can also be used to determine if there are any abnormalities of the heart, but these scans may be inconclusive or affected by factors such as technician experience and skill and equipment performance. The BNP lab test is used in conjunction with these tools to determine if heart failure is present.

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    Why the Test is Ordered

    This blood test can be ordered under several circumstances. In emergency care settings, doctors may order BNP levels to quickly determine if a patient is suffering from heart failure or some other serious condition. If a patient presents in a doctor's office with signs or symptoms of heart failure, the test may be ordered to determine if heart failure is warrant. If a patient has already been diagnosed with heart failure and been treated, this test can be used to determine how effective the treatment has been.

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    Test Results

    If the BNP lab test reveals that a patient's BNP and NT-proBNP levels are elevated, this person has a high chance of being in heart failure. Higher levels of BNP correspond to more severe heart failure. Elevated results can also indicate kidney disease, while low levels can indicate that a patient has been treated with beta blockers, diuretics, or ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors.

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    Lab Tests Online. “BNP and NT-proBNP." Retrieved 29 April 2009.