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High-tech heart tests

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MADISON (MedStar) -- New research finds expensive high-tech heart tests may not always be as effective as traditional tests when diagnosing heart failure.

  So some doctors are getting back to the basics for some patients.

  High-tech heart imaging tools like this catheterization test help doctors diagnose heart failure.

  So do sophisticated biomarker blood tests.

  61-year-old Darlene Blanton had both to diagnose her heart condition.

  And while they're effective tests, they can also be expensive and invasive.

  Doctor Mark Drazner said, "so if you can find a cheap method of following patients safely, that in fact could translate into some substantial healthcare savings."

  That was the goal of a recent study that compared good old-fashioned physical exams and patient history to more invasive tests, like catherizations, to assess heart failure.

  Doctor Mark Drazner also said, "we found out that the information the physicians were able to get from the history and physical often times agreed with the more invasive information."

  Darlene Blanton added, "at one time, I used 4 pillows."

  Heart failure patients like Darlene often use pillows to prop themselves up while sleeping.

  Without them, Darlene felt like she was suffocating.

  And that would have been important information to tell the doctor during the "history" portion of a normal, old-fashioned exam.

  Doctor Drazner believes taking a thorough patient history and even looking at a patient's neck veins can determine if excess fluid is present.

  Excess fluid is a strong indicator of heart failure.

  Doctor Drazner also said, "physicians really need to become skilled at this approach so they can follow their patients."

  For now, Darlene routinely sees her cardiologist and keeps her heart condition in check through medication and daily exercise.

  The research was conducted at 26 sites in the US and Canada and was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the American Heart Association.

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