Ejection Fraction: What the Numbers Mean

Ejection fraction graphic

Ejection fraction is a measurement that can gauge how healthy the heart is.

A low ejection fraction number can be an indicator of heart failure and can lead to a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Swelling in the legs and feet

What is ejection fraction?

A healthy heart contracts (empties blood) and relaxes (refills blood) 60-80 times each minute. With each heartbeat, the heart pumps blood from the left and right ventricle.

In most cases, ejection fraction refers to the percentage of blood that's pumped out of the left ventricle with each heartbeat. For example, an ejection fraction of 50% means that 50% of the blood from the left ventricle is being pumped out during each beat.

There are two types of ejection fraction: left ventricular and right ventricular. Left ventricular measures how much blood gets pumped from the left ventricle with each contraction. Typically, ejection fraction refers to left ventricular. Right ventricular ejection fraction measures how much blood is pumped out of the right side of the heart, to the lungs.

What are the tests used to determine ejection fraction?

  • Echocardiography – the most common test used to measure ejection fraction.
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Nuclear medicine scan
  • CT (computerized tomography)

What do ejection fraction numbers mean?

  • 55 to 70% – Normal heart function.
  • 40 to 55% – Below normal heart function. Can indicate previous heart damage from heart attack or cardiomyopathy.
  • Higher than 75% – Can indicate a heart condition like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a common cause of sudden cardiac arrest.
  • Less than 40% – May confirm the diagnosis of heart failure.

How can you improve your ejection fraction?

  • Limit salt – the average American eats nearly 3,400mg of sodium a day – more than double the recommended amount.
  • Watch your fluid intake – talk with your cardiologist about how much fluid to consume each day.
  • Exercise – try some type of physical activity 30 minutes each day, three days a week.

After the initial ejection fraction measurement, your doctor will check the number as needed, depending on your condition. Because ejection fraction is just one measure of how well the heart is working, even when this number is normal, the heart may not be functioning properly.

Heart failure is a complex disease, but it is manageable – especially when you are armed with the right information.

Our heart failure team is "certified and advanced" by the Joint Commission, meaning we specialize in treating patients with heart failure and take the time to answer all of their questions.

About this Blog

The Penn Heart and Vascular blog provides the latest information on heart disease prevention, nutrition and breakthroughs in cardiovascular care.

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