Heart failure is a condition where the muscle of the heart is weakened and pumps inefficiently. There are many causes of this condition, and it is important to treat both the condition itself and, if possible, the underlying cause.

The valves of the heart are important to ensure that the blood flows around the heart and then around the body in the correct direction. Again, there are many causes of valve problems, although the most common cause currently is simply an ageing heart. Remember that these valves have to work 60 or so times a minute, for every minute/hour/day of your life!

The most important investigation for both heart failure and valvular problems is an echocardiogram. This is a non-invasive ultrasound scan of the heart, which lets the cardiologist assess the structure and function of the heart muscle and the valves.
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Echocardiography is the mainstay of investigating whether your symptoms may be due to heart failure or valve problems. "Echo" uses ultrasound waves to look at the structure and function of the heart. It is an easy and painless test, which gives extremely valuable information to the cardiologist.

Serial echos, usually over the course of several months or years, allows the cardiologist to assess the heart's response to treatments, or to look at the changes of valve function as the heart ages.
Cardiac MRI is a modality which can be used to look at the function and structure of the heart, and the flows through various valves. It can give additional information to an echocardiogram, but is a much longer and more convoluted test and therefore reserved for cases where the echocardiogram has not given a definitive answer to the clinical question.
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