The four major diagnostic criteria for the syndrome of congestive heart failure are left ventricular dysfunction, exercise intolerance, pulmonary congestion or edema and ventricular arrhythmias. Activation of norepinephrine, angiotensin II, vasopressin and atrial natriuretic peptide may be a key factor in the vasoconstriction and increased impedance to left ventricular ejection in heart failure. Interventions that interfere with these vasoconstrictor mechanisms should have a salutary effect on left ventricular performance. Treatment with angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, α-adrenoceptor blockers and vasopressin antagonists has resulted in hemodynamic benefits, but it has been more difficult to demonstrate long-term clinical effectiveness. Reductions in mortality have been demonstrated in patients with heart failure treated with vasodilators and ACE inhibitors. Improvement in the quality of life and prolongation of life are the only two appropriate goals in the management of heart failure. Further understanding of the role of angiotensin II and its interference by ACE inhibition in the tissue processes of heart failure is needed.