Although congestive heart failure (CHF) is a common syndrome among the elderly, there is a relative paucity of population-based data, particularly regarding CHF with normal systolic left ventricular function. A total of 4,842 independent living, community-dwelling subjects aged 66 to 103 years received questionnaires on medical history, family history, personal habits, physical activity, and socioeconomic status, confirmation of pre-existing cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, anthropometric measurements, casual seated random-zero blood pressure, forced vital capacity and expiratory volume in 1 second, 12-lead supine electrocardiogram, fasting glucose, creatinine, plasma lipids, carotid artery wall thickness by ultrasonography, and echocardiography-Doppler examinations. Participants with at least 1 confirmed episode of CHF by Cardiovascular Health Study criteria were considered prevalent for CHF. The prevalence of CHF was 8.8% and was associated with increased age, particularly for women, in whom it increased more than twofold from age 65 to 69 years (6.6%) to age > or = 85 years (14%). In multivariate analysis, subjects with CHF were more likely to be older (odds ratio [OR] 1.2 for 5-year difference, men OR 1.1), and more often had a history of myocardial infarction (OR 7.3), atrial fibrillation (OR 3.0), diabetes mellitus (OR 2.1), renal dysfunction (OR 2.0 for creatinine < or = 1.5 mg/ dl), and chronic pulmonary disease (OR 1.8; women only). The echocardiographic correlates of CHF were increased left atrial and ventricular dimensions. Importantly, 55% of subjects with CHF had normal left ventricular systolic function and 80% had either normal or only mildly reduced systolic function. Among subjects with CHF, women had normal systolic function more frequently than men (67% vs 42%; p < 0.001). Thus, CHF is common among community-dwelling elderly. It increases with age and is usually associated with normal systolic LV function, particularly among women. The finding that a large proportion of elderly with CHF have preserved LV systolic function is important because there is a paucity of data to guide management in this dominant subset.