Last reviewed: 28 Sep 2021
Last updated: 08 Jun 2021



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)

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

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

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

Investigations to consider

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

Treatment algorithm


Expert advisers

Resham Baruah, MBBS, BSc, MRCP, PhD

Consultant Cardiologist

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




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




ADH declares that he has no competing interests.


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



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




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




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.


Susan Mayor,

Lead Section Editor, BMJ Best Practice


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


AS declares that she has no competing interests.

Rachel Wheeler,

Lead Section Editor, BMJ Best Practice


RW declares that she has no competing interests.

Julie Costello,

Comorbidities Editor, BMJ Best Practice


JC declares that she has no competing interests.

Adam Mitchell,

Drug Editor, BMJ Best Practice


AM declares that he has no competing interests.

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