In order to bring you the best possible user experience, this site uses Javascript. If you are seeing this message, it is likely that the Javascript option in your browser is disabled. For optimal viewing of this site, please ensure that Javascript is enabled for your browser.
Did you know that your browser is out of date? To get the best experience using our website we recommend that you upgrade to a newer version. Learn more.

Time is muscle in acute heart failure

Urgent treatment emphasised for the first time in recommendations from across specialties and continents

Urgent diagnosis and treatment in acute heart failure has been emphasised for the first time in joint recommendations published today in European Heart Journal.1

Coronary Artery Disease, Acute Coronary Syndromes, Acute Cardiac Care
Heart Failure


22 May 2015 02:05 CEST (Paris)

22 May 2015 01:05 BST (London)

21 May 2015 20:05 EDT (New York)

Sophia Antipolis, 22 May 2015: Urgent treatment emphasised for the first time in recommendations from across specialties and continents

The consensus paper is the result of a novel collaboration between the Heart Failure Association (HFA) of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), the European Society for Emergency Medicine and the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine in the USA.

Professor Alexandre Mebazaa, lead author and HFA board member, said:

“This is the first guidance to insist that acute heart failure (AHF) is like acute coronary syndrome (ACS) in that it needs urgent diagnosis and appropriate treatment. In ACS when the coronary is occluded we say ‘time is muscle’ which means that the quicker the vessel is dilated, the more heart muscle is saved. The same principle is true for AHF.”

He added:

“By introducing the time to therapy concept together with new medications for AHF we hope to achieve the reductions in mortality and morbidity seen with ACS.”

AHF presents as either an exacerbation of chronic heart failure or the abrupt onset of dyspnoea (shortness of breath) and significantly elevated blood pressure. It is a distressing and life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention and usually leads to urgent hospital admission.

Professor Abdelouahab Bellou, an author of the paper and past president of EuSEM, said:

“If we treat patients with AHF earlier we can expect a decrease in mortality and morbidity. Failure to treat quickly aggravates underlying chronic heart failure and can induce complications including cardiogenic shock and acute respiratory distress. Patients may need to be intubated which can increase their risk of mortality.”

The paper published today outlines:
•    An algorithm for the management of AHF
•    Tests and treatments to be performed pre-hospital, and in the emergency department, coronary care unit (CCU) or intensive care unit (ICU)
•    The role of nurses in the management of AHF
•    How to use oxygen therapy and ventilatory support
•    How to manage new and currently prescribed medicines
•    Criteria for discharge from hospital and recommendations for follow up.

The paper advocates addressing patients’ anxiety by answering questions promptly and providing clear information, and communicating with families. Professor Mebazaa said:

“Dyspnoea causes more anxiety for patients, families and doctors than chest pain. Anxiety is also caused by low oxygen levels in the brain. Unfortunately there are no medications to relax patients without worsening their respiration and blood oxygen levels. But we can reduce anxiety by talking to patients and families and giving oxygen.”

He added:

“Patients’ anxiety levels depend on how the family is coping. If it’s a first episode of AHF we need to take time to explain the condition to families. For frequent fliers 2 we explain whether it’s a similar or different episode to the last time.”

Emphasis is given to follow up during the high risk period after discharge from hospital. Professor Mebazaa said:

“Many patients die from AHF during the first hospitalisation. Around 30-40% of discharged patients are back in hospital within 30 days. This is contrast to most conditions, where patients are treated and do not return. We need to do everything we can to avoid readmissions in the first 30 days.”

This is the first time cardiologists, emergency physicians, intensivists and nurses from Europe and the USA have joined forces to agree a treatment algorithm for patients with AHF. Professor Mebazaa said:

“Inconsistency in medicine is never good for patients. Many patients with AHF are hospitalised many times and may receive different treatment for the same event in the emergency room, ICU or CCU. We hope to standardise care by recommending best contemporary practices based on the latest evidence.”

He concluded “We are at the beginning of the road in AHF. By providing fast and appropriate treatment we hope to mimic the successful journey of ACS and achieve significant reductions in mortality and morbidity.”



1 Recommendations on pre-hospital and hospital management of acute heart failure: a consensus paper from the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology, the European Society of Emergency Medicine and the Society of Academic Emergency Medicine. European Heart Journal. 2015; doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehv066 [insert link]

2 Patients with multiple hospital admissions are sometimes referred to as frequent fliers.

Notes to editor

ESC Heart Failure Guidelines
ESC Guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic heart failure 2012. European Heart Journal. 2012;33:1787–1847. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehs104


The full paper can be accessed here:
EJHF long version
EHJ Long version

About the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology
The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) represents more than 80 000 cardiology professionals across Europe and the Mediterranean. Its mission is to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease in Europe.

The Heart Failure Association (HFA) is a registered branch of the ESC. Its aim is to improve quality of life and longevity, through better prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart failure, including the establishment of networks for its management, education and research.

About the European Society for Emergency Medicine
The European Society for Emergency Medicine (EuSEM) is a non-profit making scientific organisation whose aim is to promote and foster the concept, philosophy and the art of emergency medicine throughout Europe.

About the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine
The Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) is dedicated to the improvement of care of the acutely ill and injured patient by improving research and education.