Symptomatic heart failure is preceded by a somewhat prolonged asymptomatic stage in many patients. The number of patients with asymptomatic heart dysfunction is about 4-fold greater than the number of patients with clinically overt heart failure. Pharmacologic treatment with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and β-blockers (in particular carvedilol) of asymptomatic patients with systolic left ventricular (LV) dysfunction can prevent or delay the occurrence of symptoms and reduce mortality in the long term. Thus, it would be of utmost importance to recognize and appropriately treat these patients before they develop heart failure symptoms. The cost-effectiveness of screening for asymptomatic heart dysfunction in the general population and in cohorts at risk has not been extensively evaluated. A normal electrocardiogram has a high negative predictive value in patients at risk. Echocardiography is the best tool for diagnosis and characterization of heart dysfunction, but extensive use is limited by availability and cost. Natriuretic peptides (brain natriuretic peptide and N-terminal pro-brain natriuretic peptide) are very sensitive markers of heart dysfunction and volume overload, and their measurement has been proposed as a first-line test to select patients who need echocardiography. The definition of the etiology of LV dysfunction - in particular, of the ischemic etiology - has prognostic and therapeutic implications. In addition to revascularization, pharmacologic treatment with antiplatelets and statins is helpful in preventing new ischemic events and the development of heart failure. The prevention, or at least the delay, of clinical manifestations of heart failure is strongly related to an effective approach to the asymptomatic stage. Therefore, it is important to educate the entire medical community, particularly physicians in the primary care setting, about recognition and treatment of these patients.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine