Heart failure guidelines: What you need to know about the 2017 focused update

Author and Disclosure Information

Release date: February 1, 2019
Expiration date: January 31, 2020
Estimated time of completion: 1 hour

Click here to start this CME/MOC activity.


The 2017 focused update of the 2013 ACC/AHA guideline on heart failure contains new and important recommendations on prevention, novel biomarker uses, heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF), and comorbidities such as hypertension, iron deficiency, and sleep-disordered breathing. Potential implications for management of acute decompensated heart failure will also be explored.


  • Despite advances in treatment, heart failure remains highly morbid, common, and costly. Prevention is key.
  • Strategies to prevent progression to clinical heart failure in high-risk patients include new blood pressure targets (< 130/80 mm Hg) and B-type natriuretic peptide screening to prompt referral to a cardiovascular specialist.
  • An aldosterone receptor antagonist might be considered to decrease hospitalizations in appropriately selected stage C HFpEF patients. Routine use of nitrates or phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors in such patients is not recommended.
  • Outpatient intravenous iron infusions are reasonable in persistently symptomatic New York Heart Association stage II to III heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) to improve functional capacity and quality of life.
  • The new systolic blood pressure target is less than 130 mm Hg for stage A heart failure, stage C HFrEF, and stage C HFpEF.



In 2017, the American College of Cardiology (ACC), American Heart Association (AHA), and Heart Failure Society of America (HFSA) jointly released a focused update1 of the 2013 ACC/AHA guideline for managing heart failure.2 This is the second focused update of the 2013 guidelines; the first update,3 in 2016, covered 2 new drugs (sacubitril-valsartan and ivabradine) for chronic stage C heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF).

Rather than focus on new medication classes, this second update provides recommendations regarding:

  • Preventing the progression to left ventricular dysfunction or heart failure in patients at high risk (stage A) through screening with B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) and aiming for more aggressive blood pressure control
  • Inpatient biomarker use
  • Medications in heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF, or diastolic heart failure)
  • Blood pressure targets in stage C heart failure
  • Managing important comorbidities such as iron deficiency and sleep-disordered breathing to decrease morbidity, improve functional capacity, and enhance quality of life.

These guidelines and the data that underlie them are explored below. We also discuss potential applications to the management of hospitalization for acute decompensated heart failure (ADHF).


Heart failure—defined by the ACC/AHA as the complex clinical syndrome that results from any structural or functional impairment of ventricular filling or ejection of blood—remains one of the most common, costly, and debilitating diseases in the United States.2 Based on National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 2011 to 2014, an estimated 6.5 million US adults have it, with projections of more than 8 million by 2030.4,5 More than 960,000 new cases are thought to occur annually, with a lifetime risk of developing it of roughly 20% to 45%.6

Despite ever-growing familiarity and some significant strides in management, the death rate in this syndrome is substantial. After admissions for heart failure (which number 1 million per year), the mortality rate is roughly 10% at 1 year and 40% at 5 years.6 Also staggering are the associated costs, with $30.7 billion attributed to heart failure in 2012 and a projected $69.7 billion annually by 2030.5 Thus, we must direct efforts not only to treatment, but also to prevention.

Table 1. Heart failure stages and functional classes

Preventive efforts would target patients with ACC/AHA stage A heart failure—those at high risk for developing but currently without evidence of structural heart disease or heart failure symptoms (Table 1).7 This group may represent up to one-third of the US adult population, or 75 million people, when including the well-recognized risk factors of coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and chronic kidney disease in those without left ventricular dysfunction or heart failure.8


Past ACC/AHA heart failure guidelines2 have included recommendations on the use of biomarkers to aid in diagnosis and prognosis and, to a lesser degree, to guide treatment of heart failure. Largely based on 2 trials (see below), the 2017 guidelines go further, issuing a recommendation on the use of natriuretic peptide biomarkers in a screening strategy to prompt early intervention and prevent the progression to clinical heart failure in high-risk patients (stage A heart failure).

The PONTIAC trial

The NT-proBNP Selected Prevention of Cardiac Events in a Population of Diabetic Patients Without a History of Cardiac Disease (PONTIAC) trial9 randomized 300 outpatients with type 2 diabetes mellitus and an elevated N-terminal proBNP (NT-proBNP) level (> 125 pg/mL) to standard medical care vs standard care plus intensive up-titration of renin-angiotensin system antagonists and beta-blockers in a cardiac clinic over 2 years.

Earlier studies10 had shown NT-proBNP levels to have predictive value for cardiac events in diabetic patients, while the neurohormonal treatments were thought to have an established record of preventing primary and secondary cardiovascular events. In PONTIAC, a significant reduction was seen in the primary end point of hospitalization or death due to cardiac disease (hazard ratio [HR] 0.351, P = .044), as well as in the secondary end point of hospitalization due to heart failure (P < .05), in the aggressive-intervention group. These results laid the foundation for the larger St. Vincent’s Screening to Prevent Heart Failure (STOP-HF) trial.11


Next Article:

Dancing sternal wires: A radiologic sign of sternal dehiscence

Related Articles