Heart failure (HF) is a progressive disorder associated with frequent morbidity and mortality. An American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology staging classification of HF has been developed to emphasize early detection and prevention. The prevalence of HF stages and their association with mortality are unknown. We sought to estimate HF stage prevalence in the community and to measure the association of HF stages with mortality. A population-based, cross-sectional, random sample of 2029 Olmsted County, Minnesota, residents aged > or = 45 years was identified. Participants were classified by medical record review, symptom questionnaire, physical examination, and echocardiogram as follows: stage 0, healthy; stage A, HF risk factors; stage B, asymptomatic cardiac structural or functional abnormalities; stage C, HF symptoms; and stage D, severe HF. In the cohort, 32% were stage 0, 22% stage A, 34% stage B, 12% stage C, and 0.2% stage D. Mean B-type natriuretic peptide concentrations (in pg/mL) increased by stages: stage 0=26, stage A=32, stage B=53, stage C=137, and stage D=353. Survival at 5 years was 99% in stage 0, 97% in stage A, 96% in stage B, 75% in stage C, and 20% in stage D. The present study provides prevalence estimates and prognostic validation for HF staging in a community cohort. Of note, 56% of adults > or = 45 years of age were classified as being in stage A (risk factors) or B (asymptomatic ventricular dysfunction). HF staging underscores the magnitude of the population at risk for progression to overt HF.