Pathophysiology of chronic heart failure

Gary S. Francis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

206 Scopus citations


Heart failure is a changing paradigm. The hemodynamic model, which served our needs well from the 1950s through the early 1980s, has now been largely abandoned, except for the management of decompensated patients in the hospital. The pathophysiology is exceedingly complex and involves structural changes, such as loss of myofilaments, apoptosis and disorganization of the cytoskeleton, as well as disturbances in Ca2+ homeostasis, alteration in receptor density, signal transduction, and collagen synthesis. A more contemporary working hypothesis is that heart failure is a progressive disorder of left ventricular remodeling, usually resulting from an index event, that culminates in a clinical syndrome characterized by impaired cardiac function and circulatory congestion. This change in the framework of our understanding of the pathophysiology of heart failure is predicated on the results of numerous clinical trials conducted during the past 20 years. New therapies are now evolving that are designed to inhibit neuroendocrine and cytokine activation, whereas drugs specifically designed to heighten cardiac contractility and "unload" the left ventricle have proven to be unhelpful in long-term management of patients with chronic heart failure. However, the hemodynamic model is still relevant for patients in the hospital with decompensated heart failure, where positive inotropic drugs and vasodilators are still widely used. The modern treatment of chronic heart failure is now largely based on the neurohormonal hypothesis, which states that neuroendocrine activation is important in the progression of heart failure and that inhibition of neurohormones is likely to have long-term benefit with regard to morbidity and mortality. Thus, the evolution of treatment for chronic heart failure as a result of clinical trials has provided much enlightenment for our understanding of the fundamental biology of the disorder, a reversal of the usual flow of information from basic science to clinical investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-46
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - May 7 2001


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