Aims: To determine the incidence and aetiology of heart failure in the general population.
Methods and results: New cases of heart failure were identified from a population of 151 000 served by 82 general practitioners in Hillingdon, West London through surveillance of acute hospital admissions and through a rapid access clinic to which general practitioners referred all new cases of suspected heart failure. On the basis of clinical assessment, electrocardiography, chest radiography and transthoracic echocardiography, a panel of three cardiologists decided that 220 patients met the case definition of new heart failure over a 20 month period (crude incidence rate of 1.3 cases per 1000 population per year for those aged 25 years or over). The incidence rate increased from 0.02 cases per 1000 population per year in those aged 25-34 years to 11.6 in those aged 85 years and over. The incidence was higher in males than females (age-adjusted incidence ratio 1.75 [95% confidence interval 1.34-2.29, P<0.0001]). The median age at presentation was 76 years. The primary aetiologies were coronary heart disease (36%), unknown (34%), hypertension (14%), valve disease (7%), atrial fibrillation alone (5%), and other (5%).
Conclusions: Within the general population, new cases of heart failure largely occur in the elderly, and the incidence is higher in men than women. The single most common aetiology is coronary heart disease, but in a third of cases the aetiology cannot be determined on the basis of non-invasive investigation alone. To be relevant to clinical practice, future clinical trials in heart failure should not exclude the elderly.