Muscle wasting and cachexia in heart failure: mechanisms and therapies

Nat Rev Cardiol. 2017 Jun;14(6):323-341. doi: 10.1038/nrcardio.2017.51. Epub 2017 Apr 24.


Body wasting is a serious complication that affects a large proportion of patients with heart failure. Muscle wasting, also known as sarcopenia, is the loss of muscle mass and strength, whereas cachexia describes loss of weight. After reaching guideline-recommended doses of heart failure therapies, the most promising approach to treating body wasting seems to be combined therapy that includes exercise, nutritional counselling, and drug treatment. Nutritional considerations include avoiding excessive salt and fluid intake, and replenishment of deficiencies in trace elements. Administration of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids is beneficial in selected patients. High-calorific nutritional supplements can also be useful. The prescription of aerobic exercise training that provokes mild or moderate breathlessness has good scientific support. Drugs with potential benefit in the treatment of body wasting that have been tested in clinical studies in patients with heart failure include testosterone, ghrelin, recombinant human growth hormone, essential amino acids, and β2-adrenergic receptor agonists. In this Review, we summarize the pathophysiological mechanisms of muscle wasting and cachexia in heart failure, and highlight the potential treatment strategies. We aim to provide clinicians with the relevant information on body wasting to understand and treat these conditions in patients with heart failure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cachexia / etiology
  • Cachexia / physiopathology
  • Cachexia / prevention & control*
  • Drug Therapy / methods*
  • Exercise
  • Heart Failure* / complications
  • Heart Failure* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Support
  • Sarcopenia / etiology
  • Sarcopenia / physiopathology
  • Sarcopenia / prevention & control*