Bisoprolol is a highly selective beta(1)-adrenoceptor antagonist. Administration of bisoprolol to patients with chronic heart failure is associated with increases in left ventricular function and reductions in heart rate; increases in heart rate variability are also seen. Two major randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre trials have examined the clinical efficacy of bisoprolol in combination with ACE inhibitors and diuretics in patients with stable chronic heart failure (New York Heart Association class III or IV): the Cardiac Insufficiency Bisoprolol Study (CIBIS; n = 641) and CIBIS II (n = 2 647). All-cause mortality (primary endpoint) was significantly lower in bisoprolol than in placebo recipients in CIBIS II (11.8 vs 17.3%) and was reduced by bisoprolol regardless of dosage. All-cause mortality was also lower in CIBIS (16.6 vs 20.9%) although the difference did not achieve statistical significance. In a meta-analysis of CIBIS and CIBIS II (n = 3 288), a relative reduction of 29% in the incidence of all-cause mortality was seen in bisoprolol versus placebo recipients; this analysis also demonstrated that bisoprolol reduces mortality in patients with chronic heart failure regardless of aetiology or severity. In CIBIS II, there were significantly fewer cardiovascular deaths, admissions to hospital for any reason, or cardiovascular deaths or cardiovascular hospitalisations (combined endpoint) in bisoprolol, compared with placebo, recipients (secondary endpoints). Compared with standard treatment alone, the addition of bisoprolol was a cost-effective option in chronic heart failure in UK, French, German and Swedish pharmacoeconomic studies. Bisoprolol is generally well tolerated in patients with chronic heart failure. In CIBIS II, adverse events occurring more commonly in bisoprolol than placebo recipients, regardless of causal relationship with the study medication, included dizziness, bradycardia, hypotension and fatigue. Bisoprolol recipients were less likely than placebo recipients to experience worsening of heart failure, dyspnoea or tachycardia. In both CIBIS and CIBIS II there was no significant difference between bisoprolol and placebo recipients in the incidence of permanent treatment withdrawal. In conclusion, adding the highly selective beta(1)-blocker bisoprolol to a treatment regimen comprising an ACE inhibitor and a diuretic significantly improves survival in patients with stable chronic heart failure and reduces the need for hospitalisation. The use of bisoprolol in this disorder is generally well tolerated and is cost effective. Thus, bisoprolol should be considered a standard treatment option when selecting a beta-blocker for use in combination with ACE inhibitors and diuretics in patients with stable, moderate to severe chronic heart failure.