Chronic heart failure is no longer a mere cardiac entity, but involves several, initially adaptive and later detrimental, neurohumoral compensatory mechanisms. Peripheral manifestations of the disease, such as endothelial dysfunction, skeletal muscle changes, and disturbances in ventilatory control, are major determinants of symptoms. The independent prognostic value and the relevance of cachexia on morbidity of patients with chronic heart failure have only recently been recognised. Altered body composition in heart failure patients is reflected in the early loss of muscle tissue but affects all tissue compartments in case of cardiac cachexia. Recently, a new portfolio of biologically active molecules, termed cytokines, have been shown to play an important role in the development and progression of both cardiac and peripheral abnormalities. Similar to other chronic illnesses, covered in the remainder of this issue, a low-grade chronic inflammatory process may be of particular relevance in the development of tissue wasting in these patients. Whereas the presence of immune activation in chronic heart failure is now widely accepted, as well as the prognostic relevance of chronic inflammation, the site and the source of cytokine production remain the object of intense research. Although the inciting event is located in the heart, cross-talk between the myocardium on the one hand, and the immune system, peripheral tissues and organs on the other hand, will lead to the overproduction of proinflammatory cytokines and, inevitably, to their detrimental effects. The specific problems related to heart failure progression and inflammatory activation are described in this review.