Various abnormalities have been implicated in the transition of hypertrophy to heart failure but the exact mechanism is still unknown. Thus heart failure subsequent to hypertrophy remains a major clinical problem. Recently, oxidative stress has been suggested to play a critical role in the pathogenesis of heart failure. Here we describe antioxidant changes as well as their significance during hypertrophy and heart failure stages. Heart hypertrophy in rats and guinea pigs, in response to pressure overload, is associated with an increase in 'antioxidant reserve' and a decrease in oxidative stress. Hypertrophied rat hearts show increased tolerance for different oxidative stress conditions such as those imposed by free radicals, hypoxia-reoxygenation and ischemia-reperfusion. On the other hand, heart failure under acute as well as chronic conditions is associated with reduced antioxidant reserve and increased oxidative stress. The latter may have a causal role as suggested by the protection seen with antioxidant treatment in acute as well as in chronic heart failure. It is becoming increasingly apparent that, anytime the available antioxidant reserve in the cell becomes inadequate, myocardial dysfunction is imminent.