Patients with heart failure should stop smoking, maintain an optimal weight and limit their intake of salt. Alcohol abuse should be avoided. The detection and early treatment of hypertension appears to have had a major impact in preventing heart failure.Diuretics revolutionized the treatment of congestive heart failure and their proper and appropriate use can alleviate peripheral and pulmonary oedema. Diuretics should not be overused and care should be taken to avoid hypokalaemia.Controversy surrounds the use of digoxin in patients in sinus rhythm; the drug should be used in patients in atrial fibrillation. The use of an inotropic drug may be harmful in the presence of coronary artery disease. A reduction in the current use of digoxin might be of benefit to many patients with heart failure. When the drug is prescribed it should be used in a therapeutic and not homeopathic dose.Recent interest has been directed toward the use of vasodilators and the angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors in patients with heart failure. In my opinion, these drugs should be used after patients have been treated with thiazide and loop diuretics. Vasodilators are particularly beneficial in acute heart failure or in patients with chronic heart failure when the symptoms are related to fluid overload and volume expansion. The cause of symptoms in patients with chronic heart failure optimally treated with diuretics is controversial. Shortness of breath may not be simply related to the left atrial pressure. Fatigue and breathlessness may be sensations arising from metabolic changes and neurogenic signals in skeletal muscle deprived of an adequate blood flow on exercise. In such circumstances, for treatment to be effective, blood flow to exercising skeletal muscle must be increased. There is a limit to the power output of the damaged heart but symptomatic benefit to patients may be achieved by more appropriate redirection of the limited cardiac output.