Diagnosis of Acute Heart Failure in the Emergency Department: An Evidence-Based Review

Brit Long, Alex Koyfman, Michael Gottlieb

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Heart failure is a common presentation to the emergency department (ED), which can be confused with other clinical conditions. This review provides an evidence-based summary of the current ED evaluation of heart failure. Acute heart failure is the gradual or rapid decompensation of heart failure, resulting from either fluid overload or maldistribution. Typical symptoms can include dyspnea, orthopnea, or systemic edema. The physical examination may reveal pulmonary rales, an S3 heart sound, or extremity edema. However, physical examination findings are often not sensitive or specific. ED assessments may include electrocardiogram, complete blood count, basic metabolic profile, liver function tests, troponin, brain natriuretic peptide, and a chest radiograph. While often used, natriuretic peptides do not significantly change ED treatment, mortality, or readmission rates, although they may decrease hospital length of stay and total cost. Chest radiograph findings are not definitive, and several other conditions may mimic radiograph findings. A more reliable modality is point-of-care ultrasound, which can facilitate the diagnosis by assessing for B-lines, cardiac function, and inferior vena cava size. These modalities, combined with clinical assessment and gestalt, are recommended.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)875-884
Number of pages10
JournalThe western journal of emergency medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 24 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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