Acute heart failure

Last reviewed: 6 Sep 2022
Last updated: 11 Mar 2022

Summary

Definition

History and exam

Key diagnostic factors

  • breathlessness
  • peripheral oedema
  • reduced exercise tolerance
  • fatigue
  • cold extremities
  • elevated jugular venous pressure
  • risk factors
  • displaced apex beat
  • gallop rhythm (third heart sound)
Full details

Other diagnostic factors

  • nocturnal cough
  • wheezing
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • loss of appetite
  • nocturnal ischaemic pain
  • ascites
  • central cyanosis
  • narrow pulse pressure
  • altered mental status
  • oliguria
  • delayed capillary refill time
  • pulmonary crepitations
  • dullness to percussion/decreased air entry in lung bases
Full details

Risk factors

  • previous cardiovascular disease
  • older age
  • prior episode of heart failure
  • diabetes mellitus
  • family history of ischaemic heart disease or cardiomyopathy
  • excessive alcohol intake
  • smoking
  • cardiac arrhythmias
  • history of systemic conditions associated with heart failure
  • previous chemotherapy
  • medication
  • hypertension
  • valvular heart disease
  • pericardial disease
  • myocarditis
  • excessive salt intake
  • excessive catecholamine stimulation
  • abnormal thyroid function
Full details

Diagnostic investigations

1st investigations to order

  • ECG
  • chest x-ray
  • natriuretic peptides
  • troponin
  • full blood count
  • urea, electrolytes, and creatinine
  • glucose and HbA1c
  • liver function tests
  • thyroid function tests
  • C-reactive protein
  • D-dimer
  • echocardiography
Full details

Investigations to consider

  • venous or arterial blood gas
  • blood tests screening for myocarditis
  • bedside thoracic ultrasound
Full details

Treatment algorithm

ACUTE

haemodynamically unstable: hypotensive (systolic BP <90 mmHg) or other signs of cardiogenic shock

haemodynamically unstable: hypertensive crisis

haemodynamically stable

ONGOING

acute episode stabilised: LVEF ≤40%

acute episode stabilised: LVEF 41% to 49%

acute episode stabilised: LVEF ≥50%

Contributors

Expert advisers

Resham Baruah, MBBS, BSc, FRCP, MSc, PhD

Consultant Cardiologist

Heart Failure Lead

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust

London

UK

Biography

RB was a specialist advisor to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guideline on chronic heart failure in adults.

Disclosures

RB has received honorarium/speaker fees from Novartis and Boehringer Ingleheim.

Adam D. Hartley, MBBS, BSc, MRCP

Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Fellow

Imperial College London

Specialist Registrar in Cardiology

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

London

UK

Disclosures

ADH declares that he has no competing interests.

Acknowledgements

Best Practice would like to gratefully acknowledge the previous expert contributor, whose work is retained in parts of the content:

Syed Wamique Yusuf, MBBS, FACC, FRCPI

Professor of Medicine

Department of Cardiology

University of Texas

MD Anderson Cancer Center

Houston

TX

Peer reviewers

Lisa Anderson, BSc, MB, ChB, MD

Consultant Cardiologist

Cardiovascular Clinical Academic Group

Molecular and Clinical Sciences Research Institute

St George's, University of London

St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

London

UK

Disclosures

LA was deputy chair for the British Society of Heart Failure clinical advisory board for tafamidis, undertook consultancy services for tafamidis (Pfizer), received a research grant from Pfizer, was on the clinical advisory board for dapagliflozin (AstraZeneca), and received lecture fees from the British Society of Cardiology/AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

James Gamble, BM, BCh, DM, FRCP

Consultant Cardiologist

Oxford Heart Centre

John Radcliffe Hospital

Oxford

UK

Disclosures

JG has been reimbursed for delivering educational meetings by: Novartis, the manufacturer of sacubitril/valsartan; Boerhinger Ingelhiem, the manufacturer of empagliflocin; AstraZeneca, the manufacturer of dapagliflozin; and Medtronic, the manufacturer of implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) and cardiac resynchronisation therapy (CRT) devices. He has been supported to attend educational meetings by Abbott, Medtronic, and Boston Scientific, who all manufacture ICD and CRT devices. All of these companies produce drugs or devices related to the treatment of heart failure.

Editors

Susan Mayor,

Lead Section Editor, BMJ Best Practice

Disclosures

SM works as a freelance medical journalist and editor, video editorial director and presenter, and communications trainer. In this capacity, she has been paid, and continues to be paid, by a wide range of organisations for providing these skills on a professional basis. These include: NHS organisations, including the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, NHS Choices, NHS Kidney Care, and others; publishers and medical education companies, including the BMJ Group, the Lancet group, Medscape, and others; professional organisations, including the British Thoracic Oncology Group, the European Society for Medical Oncology, the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death, and others; charities and patients’ organisations, including the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation and others; pharmaceutical companies, including Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Novartis, and others; and communications agencies, including Publicis, Red Healthcare and others. She has no stock options or shares in any pharmaceutical or healthcare companies; however, she invests in a personal pension, which may invest in these types of companies. She is managing director of Susan Mayor Limited, the company name under which she provides medical writing and communications services.

Annabel Sidwell,

Section Editor, BMJ Best Practice

Disclosures

AS declares that she has no competing interests.

Rachel Wheeler,

Lead Section Editor, BMJ Best Practice

Disclosures

RW declares that she has no competing interests.

Julie Costello,

Comorbidities Editor, BMJ Best Practice

Disclosures

JC declares that she has no competing interests.

Adam Mitchell,

Drug Editor, BMJ Best Practice

Disclosures

AM declares that he has no competing interests.

Expert advisers: comorbidities

Martyn Patel, BMBcH, FRCP, MA

Consultant, Older People's Medicine

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals

NHS Foundation Trust

Norwich

UK

Disclosures

MP is a contributor to the Oxford Textbook of Otolaryngology, Oxford University Press, 2021, having written a chapter about mental capacity law, for which he received no fee. MP is the NHS representative on the board for Norwich Institute for Healthy Ageing (unpaid role). MP has spoken at the International Forum on Quality and Safety in Healthcare, virtual conference in November 2020 for which he received no fee. MP has accepted speaker fees and/or travel expenses to deliver lectures from: University of East Anglia, Leicester University (speaker fees only); Astellas Pharma Ltd (speaker fees and travel expenses). MP has accepted travel expenses from Newton Europe to present a joint project conducted by his main employer (Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Trust) and Newton Europe at the NHS Confederation conference (Manchester 2018).

Andrew Lewington, BSc (Hons), MBBS, MEd, MD, FRCP

Consultant Renal Physician

Honorary Associate Professor

Nephrology Department

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Leeds

UK

Disclosures

AL is Associate Clinical Director of NIHR Leeds In-Vitro Diagnostics Co-operative, Co-Chair of UK Kidney Research Consortium Renal Clinical Study Group, Member of Kidney Research UK Research Grant Committee, Committee Member of NICE Kidney Injury Clinical Guideline Update 2018-20, Committee Member of NICE Diagnostic Assessment for Point of Care Creatinine Testing 2018-19. AL attended the Acute Dialysis Quality Initiative Meeting in San Diego 2018 (accommodation expenses); AL was a speaker at the AKI & CRRT Conference in San Diego 2019 (travel and accommodation expenses), the AKI Conference in Coventry 2019 (travel expenses), and the NIHR AKI and Sepsis Meeting in Leeds 2019 (no expenses).

Martin Cowie, MD, MSc, FRCP, FRCP (Ed), FESC, FHFA, FACC

Professor of Cardiology

Imperial College London (Royal Brompton Hospital)

London

UK

Disclosures

MC is chair of the European Society of Cardiology Digital Health Committee and a trustee of the Atrial Fibrillation Society. He has previously been a non-executive director of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. MC provides consultancy advice to AstraZeneca, Servier, Abbott, Medtronic, Boston Scientific, & Genomics PLC. MC declares that none of these interests is directly related to topics advised on for this project.

Rachael Evans, MBChB, FRCP (UK), PhD

Associate Professor (Clinical)

University of Leicester

Honorary Consultant Respiratory Physician

Glenfield Hospital

Leicester

UK

Disclosures

RAE has given lectures for non-promotional industry-led sessions on COPD management, including for GSK and Chiesi for individual payment and travel expenses totalling <£2,000.

Gerry Rayman, MD, FRCP

Consultant Physician and Head of Service

Diabetes and Endocrine Centre and the Diabetes Research Unit

Ipswich Hospitals NHS Trust

Ipswich

UK

Disclosures

GR has been paid for advisory board meetings with the following companies: Safoni Aventis, Abbott Diabetes UK, Lilly Diabetes, Bayer. GR has received lecture fees from Safoni Aventis, Abbott Diabetes UK, Lilly Diabetes, Novonordisk, Napp Pharmaceuticals Ltd.

Sotiris Posporelis, MD, MRCPsych

Consultant Liaison Neuropsychiatrist

King’s College Hospital

South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust

Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer

Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

King’s College London

London

UK

Disclosures

SP declares that he has no competing interests.

Asangaedem Akpan, MPH, FRCP

Consultant Geriatrician

Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Visiting Professor

University of Cumbria

Carlisle

Honorary Clinical Associate Professor

University of Liverpool

Liverpool

UK

Disclosures

AA declares that he has no competing interests.

Peer reviewers: comorbidities

Martyn Patel, BMBcH, FRCP, MA

Consultant, Older People's Medicine

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals

NHS Foundation Trust

Norwich

UK

Disclosures

MP is a contributor to the Oxford Textbook of Otolaryngology, Oxford University Press, 2021, having written a chapter about mental capacity law, for which he received no fee. MP is the NHS representative on the board for Norwich Institute for Healthy Ageing (unpaid role). MP has spoken at the International Forum on Quality and Safety in Healthcare virtual conference in November 2020, for which he received no fee. MP has accepted speaker fees and/or travel expenses to deliver lectures from: University of East Anglia, Leicester University (speaker fees only); Astellas Pharma Ltd (speaker fees and travel expenses). MP has accepted travel expenses from Newton Europe to present a joint project conducted by his main employer (Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Trust) and Newton Europe at the NHS Confederation conference (Manchester 2018).

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