Beyond pulmonary edema: diagnostic, risk stratification, and treatment challenges of acute heart failure management in the emergency department

Ann Emerg Med. 2008 Jan;51(1):45-57. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2007.07.007. Epub 2007 Sep 14.


The majority of heart failure hospitalizations in the United States originate in the emergency department (ED). Current strategies for acute heart failure syndromes have largely been tailored after chronic heart failure guidelines and care. Prospective ED-based acute heart failure syndrome trials are lacking, and current guidelines for disposition are based on either little or no evidence. As a result, the majority of ED acute heart failure syndrome patients are admitted to the hospital. Recent registry data suggest there is a significant amount of heterogeneity in acute heart failure syndrome ED presentations, and diagnostics and therapeutics may need to be individualized to the urgency of the presentation, underlying pathophysiology, and acute hemodynamic characteristics. A paradigm shift is necessary in acute heart failure syndrome guidelines and research: prospective trials need to focus on diagnostic, therapeutic, and risk-stratification algorithms that rely on readily available ED data, focusing on outcomes more proximate to the ED visit (5 days). Intermediate outcomes (30 days) are more dependent on inpatient and outpatient care and patient behavior than ED management decisions. Without these changes, the burden of acute heart failure syndrome care is unlikely to change. This article proposes such a paradigm shift in acute heart failure syndrome care and discusses areas of further research that are necessary to promote this change in approach.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Electrocardiography
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Heart Failure / diagnosis*
  • Heart Failure / physiopathology
  • Heart Failure / therapy*
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Natriuretic Peptides / blood
  • Pulmonary Edema
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Ventricular Function, Left


  • Biomarkers
  • Natriuretic Peptides