Causes of decompensation of treated chronic congestive heart failure in patients referred for emergency hospitalization were examined prospectively. 111 consecutive patients (76 +/- 11 years) were interviewed and their records examined on admission. The diagnosed underlying diseases were coronary artery disease (80%), hypertensive heart disease (40%), valvular heart disease (11%), and idiopathic dilated (7%) and alcoholic (5%) cardiomyopathy. The grounds for decompensation of chronic congestive heart failure were: insufficient compliance 47% (n = 52, irregular or not intake of medication [25%], salt [9%] or fluid [7%] excess, stopping medication because of side effects [6%]), uncontrolled hypertension (27%), insufficient diuretic therapy in spite of progressive symptoms (23%), treatment with negative inotropic drugs (21%), acute rhythm disturbances (14%), acute myocardial infarction or unstable angina pectoris (14%), infections (6%). 80% of the patients were treated with diuretics, 34% with digoxin, 31% with ACE-inhibitors. Insufficient basic knowledge about the disease (regular weighing, diet, behavior if symptoms worsen) was found in 78% of patients, complete lack of knowledge concerning the prescribed drugs in 29%. Only 44% were regularly followed by their physicians, 53% had either no regular follow-ups or they were set at too long intervals.
Conclusions: In the majority of patients, one or more avoidable causes leading to decompensation of chronic congestive heart failure can be identified. The main potential for intervention aiming at a reduction of the hospitalization frequency lies in improving patient compliance and state of the art medication by the primary care physician. Equally unsatisfactory is the low frequency of follow-up checks to reassess and renew drug therapy.