Mildly symptomatic heart failure with reduced ejection fraction: diagnostic and therapeutic considerations

Alexandra Arvanitaki, Eleni Michou, Andreas Kalogeropoulos, Haralambos Karvounis, George Giannakoulas



Whereas up to about half of patients with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) report no or only mild symptoms and are considered as clinically stable, the progressive nature of HFrEF, often silent, renders clinical stability a misleading situation, especially if disease progression is unrecognized. We highlight the challenges in the definition of clinical stability and mild symptomatic status in HFrEF, outline clinical characteristics and available diagnostic tools, and discuss evidence and gaps in the current guidelines for the management of these patients.

Methods and Results

This is a state‐of‐the‐art review that focuses on clinical, diagnostic, and therapeutic aspects in mildly symptomatic HFrEF patients; summarizes the challenges; and proposes directions for future research in this group of patients. The New York Heart Association classification has been widely used as a measure of prognosis in HFrEF, but it lacks objectivity and reproducibility in terms of symptoms assessment. The definition of clinical stability as described in current guidelines is vague and may often lead to underdiagnosis of disease progression in patients who appear to be ‘stable’ but in fact are at an increased risk of clinical worsening, hospitalization, or death. Although an increasing number of clinical trials proved that the efficacy of HFrEF therapies was unrelated to the symptomatic status of patients and led to their implementation early in the course of the disease, clinical inertia in terms of under‐prescription or underdosing of guideline‐recommended medications in mildly symptomatic HFrEF patients is still a challenging issue to deal with.


Mildly symptomatic status in a patient with HFrEF is very frequent; it should not be ignored and should not be regarded as an index of disease stability. The application of risk scores designed to predict mortality and mode of death should be engaged among mildly symptomatic patients, not only to identify the most suitable HF candidates for cardioverter defibrillator implantation, but also to identify patients who might benefit from early intensification of medical treatment before the implementation of more interventional approaches.

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