A total of 128 patients from a single practice population who were receiving loop diuretics for treatment of presumptive cardiac failure were identified from prescribing data captured by the Medicines Monitoring Unit. A subgroup of 78 patients underwent echocardiography to determine the prevalence of true left ventricular systolic dysfunction in this population and the validity of the diagnosis of cardiac failure in primary care. A further 50 patients were studied to assess the workload generated by these patients for both primary health care and hospital services. The estimated prevalence of left ventricular systolic dysfunction was 0.84%, whereas 1.6% of the population received loop diuretics for this indication. A false-positive diagnosis occurred in 47% and was more likely in females (73%) than males (37%). Of all consultations 79% were seen by GPs, 14% as hospital out-patients and 7% as in-patients. Within the hospital general physicians have most contact with these patients. In summary chronic heart failure is common within the community, although the false-positive rate for diagnosis of this condition is high. GPs and general physicians treat the majority of these patients and should therefore receive continuing education regarding recent advances in this area. Echocardiography should be performed early in the management of all patients suspected of having cardiac failure.