In patients with heart failure, plasma levels of atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP), B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP), and the N-terminal fragments of their prohormones (N-ANP and N-BNP) are elevated, because the cardiac hormonal system is activated by increased wall stretch due to increased volume and pressure overload. Patients suspected of having heart failure can be selected for further investigations on the basis of having an elevated plasma concentration of N-ANP, BNP, and N-BNP. High levels of cardiac hormones identify those at greatest risk for future serious cardiovascular events. Moreover, adjusting heart failure treatment to reduce plasma levels of N-BNP may improve outcome. Cardiac hormones are most useful clinically as a rule-out test. In acutely symptomatic patients, a very high negative predictive value is coupled with a relatively high positive predictive value. Measurement of cardiac hormones in patients with heart failure may reduce the need for hospitalizations and for more expensive investigations such as echocardiography. However, there have also been conflicting reports on the diagnostic value of cardiac hormones, they are not specific for any disease, and the magnitude of the effects of age and gender on BNP in the normal subgroup suggests that these parameters need to be considered when interpreting cardiac hormone levels.