How to diagnose diastolic heart failure: a consensus
statement on the diagnosis of heart failure with normal
left ventricular ejection fraction by the Heart Failure
and Echocardiography Associations of the European
Society of Cardiology
Walter J. Paulus1*, Carsten Tscho ¨pe2, John E. Sanderson3, Cesare Rusconi4, Frank A. Flachskampf5,
Frank E. Rademakers6, Paolo Marino7, Otto A. Smiseth8, Gilles De Keulenaer9, Adelino F.
Leite-Moreira10, Attila Borbe ´ly11, Istva ´n E´des11, Martin Louis Handoko1, Stephane Heymans12,
Natalia Pezzali4, Burkert Pieske13, Kenneth Dickstein14, Alan G. Fraser15, and Dirk L. Brutsaert9
1Laboratory of Physiology, VU University Medical Center, Van der Boechorststraat, 7, 1081 BT, Amsterdam, The Netherlands;
2Charite ´ Universita ¨tskliniken, Campus Benjamin Franklin, Berlin, Germany;3Keele University, Stoke-on-Trent, UK;4S.Orsola
Hospital, Brescia, Italy;5University of Erlangen, Germany;6University of Leuven, Belgium;7Universita degli Studi del
Piemonte Orientale, Novara, Italy;8Rikshospitalet, Oslo, Norway;9Middelheim Ziekenhuis, Antwerp, Belgium;10University
of Porto, Portugal;11Institute of Cardiology UDMHSC, Debrecen, Hungary;12University Hospital Maastricht, The Netherlands;
13Georg-August-Universita ¨t, Go ¨ttingen, Germany;14Stavanger University Hospital, Norway; and15University of Wales
College of Medicine, Cardiff, UK
Received 28 November 2006; accepted 23 February 2007; online publish-ahead-of-print 11 April 2007
See page 2421 for the editorial comment on this article (doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehm412)
Diastolic heart failure (DHF) currently accounts for more than 50% of all heart failure patients. DHF is also
referred to as heart failure with normal left ventricular (LV) ejection fraction (HFNEF) to indicate that
HFNEF could be a precursor of heart failure with reduced LVEF. Because of improved cardiac imaging
and because of widespread clinical use of plasma levels of natriuretic peptides, diagnostic criteria for
HFNEF needed to be updated. The diagnosis of HFNEF requires the following conditions to be satisfied:
(i) signs or symptoms of heart failure; (ii) normal or mildly abnormal systolic LV function; (iii) evidence
of diastolic LV dysfunction. Normal or mildly abnormal systolic LV function implies both an LVEF . 50%
andanLVend-diastolicvolumeindex(LVEDVI) ,97 mL/m2.DiagnosticevidenceofdiastolicLVdysfunction
can be obtained invasively (LV end-diastolic pressure .16 mmHg or mean pulmonary capillary wedge
pressure .12 mmHg) or non-invasively by tissue Doppler (TD) (E/E0. 15). If TD yields an E/E0ratio sug-
gestive of diastolic LV dysfunction (15 . E/E0. 8), additionalnon-invasiveinvestigations are requiredfor
diagnostic evidence of diastolic LV dysfunction. These can consist of blood flow Doppler of mitral valve or
pulmonary veins, echo measures of LV mass index or left atrial volume index, electrocardiographic evi-
are elevated, diagnostic evidence of diastolic LV dysfunction also requires additional non-invasive inves-
tigations such as TD, blood flow Doppler of mitral valve or pulmonary veins, echo measures of LV mass
index or left atrial volume index, or electrocardiographic evidence of atrial fibrillation. A similar strategy
with focus on a high negative predictive value of successive investigations is proposedfor the exclusion of
HFNEF in patients with breathlessness and no signs of congestion.
The updated strategies for the diagnosis and exclusion of HFNEF are useful not only for individual
patient management but also for patient recruitment in future clinical trials exploring therapies for
In 1998, the European Study Group on Diastolic Heart Failure
published a set of criteria for the diagnosis of diastolic heart
*Corresponding author. Tel: þ31 20 4448110; fax: þ31 20 4448255.
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European Heart Journal (2007) 28, 2539–2550
failure (DHF).1At that time, DHF was presumed to account
for approximately one-third of all patients with heart failure
and its natural history was considered to be more benign
than systolic heart failure (SHF) with a lower mortality and
morbidity rate.2–7Over the last two decades, these perspec-
lence of DHF from 38 to 54% of all heart failure cases.8,9
Moreover, the prognosis of patients suffering from DHF is as
ominous as the prognosis of patients suffering of SHF.10–15
Predisposing conditions for DHF are older age, female
gender, diabetes and obesity, arterial hypertension, and left
ventricular (LV) hypertrophy.16,17Even following a myocardial
infarction, many elderly patients still present with DHF.18
Because of this epidemiological evolution towards a
predominance of DHF in western populations, a re-appraisal
of the original set of criteria for the diagnosis of DHF is
required. This re-appraisal should address the critiques,
which have been phrased concerning the original set of
criteria, and should accommodate new pathophysiological
insights, modern cardiac imaging technology, and the wide-
spread clinical use of heart failure biomarkers.
Heart failure with normal left ventricular
ejection fraction or diastolic heart failure
Heart failure with normal LV ejection fraction (HFNEF) is
frequently referred to as DHF because of the presence of
diastolic LV dysfunction evident from slow LV relaxation
and increased LV stiffness.19
however, is not unique to patients with DHF but also
occurs in heart failure patients with SHF, and in this last
group, it even correlates better with symptoms than
LVEF.20,21Furthermore, although global LV systolic perform-
ance is preserved,22HFNEF patients have reduced myo-
cardial tissue Doppler (TD) velocities23–28and abnormal
ventriculo-arterial coupling.29,30On the basis of these
observations, the distinction between DHF and SHF is chal-
lenged,31,32and heart failure is considered to be a single
syndrome characterized by a progressive decline in systolic
performance appreciated better by TD velocities than by
LVEF (Figure 1). The concept of a single syndrome is
reinforced by the unimodal distribution of LVEF in large
heart failure trials that recruited both patients with
reduced and normal LVEF.33According to the single syn-
drome hypothesis, diastolic LV dysfunction is of similar
origin in all heart failure patients and consists primarily
of increased interstitial deposition of collagen and modified
matricellular proteins.34,35In the absence of a discrimina-
tory role for diastolic LV dysfunction, patients presenting
with heart failure without depressed LVEF are better
characterized by the term ‘HFNEF’36or the term ‘heart
failure with preserved left ventricular ejection fraction’37
than by the term ‘DHF’.
In the single syndrome hypothesis, the major difference
between the two ends of the spectrum [HFNEF and heart
failure with reduced LVEF (HFREF)] is the degree of LV ven-
tricular dilatation and shape change or LV remodelling.36
Thus, it is postulated that there is an evolution or pro-
gression from HFNEF to HFREF with the onset of LV
remodelling. LV volumes measured by three-dimensional
echocardiography are indeed already increased in HFNEF
patients compared with normal subjects after matching for
Diastolic LV dysfunction,
age, gender, and body size suggesting that early stages of
remodelling are already occurring in HFNEF.38Such an evol-
ution has also been observed in hypertensive heart
disease,39–42especially in African43–45and Asian46,47popu-
lations. In many of these studies, interval clinical events,
such as myocardial infarction, were, however, not reported
or significantly higher39in the patients, who subsequently
developed a depressed LVEF. An occasional (3.5%) evolution
to eccentric LV remodelling is also observed in patients
with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy,48a disease characteri-
zed in its initial stages by concentric LV remodelling and
prominent diastolic LV dysfunction. A small, serial echocar-
diographic study of HFNEF patients observed in one-fifth of
the patients a decline in LVEF below 45% after a 3-month
follow-up period.49Larger follow-up studies, preferably
with sequential coronary angiograms, are required to inves-
tigate whether HFNEF is indeed a precursor stage to HFREF
and to identify patient characteristics, such as female
gender,50regular aerobic exercise,51chronic alcohol inges-
tion,52genetic background,53and comorbidities, such as
diabetes,54,55that may prevent or retard the evolution
from HFNEF to HFREF.
Structural, functional, and molecular biological argu-
ments support the theory that clinical heart failure presents
and evolves not as a single syndrome but as two syndromes,
one with depressed LVEF and other with normal LVEF and
specific mechanisms responsible for diastolic LV dysfunction
(Figure 1). Patients with SHF have eccentric LV hypertrophy
in contrast to patients with DHF, who have concentric
LV hypertrophy56,57as evident from the numerous studies,
which reported a high LV wall mass–volume ratio in DHF
and a low LV wall mass–volume ratio in SHF.58–61Differences
between DHF and SHF have also been reported at the
ultrastructural level:61patients with DHF have a 50% larger
cardiomyocyte diameter than patients with SHF and myofila-
mentary density is also higher in the myocardium of patients
with DHF. Cardiomyocytes isolated from biopsies of DHF and
SHF patients also differ functionally. In vitro cardiomyocyte
resting tension is higher in DHF,62and together with collagen
volume fraction, this higher cardiomyocyte resting tension
significantly contributes to in vivo myocardial stiffness.
The cytoskeletal protein titin63likely accounts for this
higher resting tension. Titin functions as a bidirectional
spring responsible for early diastolic LV recoil64and late
diastolic resistance to stretch.65,66Isoform expression of
titin differs in patients with SHF and DHF: in patients with
SHF, titin isoform expression shifts towards the more compli-
ant isoform,67–69whereas in patients with DHF the shift is
towards the less compliant isoform.61Apart from distinct
isoforms of cytoskeletal proteins in the LV myocardium of
patients with SHF and DHF, expression patterns of matrix
metalloproteinases (MMPs) and tissue inhibitors of MMPs
(TIMPs) also differ. In the myocardium of hypertensive
patients with DHF70and in aortic stenosis,71there is a
decreased matrix degradation because of downregulation
of MMPs and upregulation of TIMPs, whereas in dilated car-
diomyopathy, there is an increased matrix degradation
because of upregulation of MMPs.72In patients with aortic
stenosis, who develop a depressed LVEF, this balance
between proteolysis and antiproteolysis shifts73and impor-
tant cardiomyocyte degeneration occurs.74Furthermore, in
trabeculae of explanted human hearts, alterations of
calcium handling have been observed which selectively
W.J. Paulus et al.
disturb relaxation and diastole.75–81These alterations may
also be more prominent in DHF. Finally, in clinical outcome
trials with pharmacological intervention, patients with DHF
have not responded as convincingly as patients with
SHF,8,82which suggests that different pathophysiological
mechanisms may be operative.
For clarity, the terms HFNEF and HFREF will be used
throughout the remaining part of this manuscript and,
respectively, replace the terms DHF and SHF. This use of
HFNEF and HFREF does not imply that the issue of heart
failure presenting as one or two syndromes is resolved.
Three obligatory conditions for heart failure
with normal left ventricular ejection fraction
Three obligatory conditions need to be satisfied for the diag-
nosis of HFNEF (Figure 2): (i) presence of signs or symptoms
of congestive heart failure; (ii) presence of normal or mildly
abnormal LV systolic function, and (iii) evidence of diastolic
Signs or symptoms of congestive heart failure
Signs or symptoms of congestive heart failure include lung
crepitations, pulmonary oedema, ankle swelling, hepatome-
galy, dyspnoea on exertion, and fatigue. Different modes of
presentation of dyspnea (i.e. effort related or nocturnal)
need to be distinguished.83In HFNEF, breathlessness is
frequently the earliest symptom due to pulmonary conges-
tion,84whereas muscle fatigue is more prominent in HFREF
due to reduced cardiac output, impairment of vasodilator
capacity, and abnormalities of skeletal muscle metabolism.
Breathlessness is especially difficult to interpret in elderly
and in obese, who represent a large proportion of the
HFNEF population. Objective evidence of reduced exercise
performance can be provided by metabolic exercise
consumption (VO2max)85–89(reduced VO2max, 25 mL/kg/
min; low VO2max, 14 mL/kg/min) or by the 6 min walking
(marked limitation ,300 m). In the hospital
setting, signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure are
usually simultaneously present as many patients are
of peak exerciseoxygen
hospitalized for decompensated heart failure or episodes
of pulmonary oedema. In the outpatient setting, however,
without detectable signs of congestion. ‘Presence of signs
or symptoms of congestive heart failure’ as the first criter-
ium for the diagnosis of HFNEF is therefore preferable to
‘presence of signs and symptoms of congestive heart
failure’. The latter criterion is used by the National Heart,
Lung, and Blood Institute’s Framingham Heart Study.93
are frequently reported
Normal or mildly abnormal systolic
left ventricular function
The presence of normal or mildly abnormal systolic LV func-
tion constitutes the second criterion for the diagnosis of
HFNEF. Since LVEF of heart failure patients presents as a
unimodal distribution, the choice of a specific cut-off
value remains arbitrary.33The National Heart, Lung, and
Blood Institute’s Framingham Heart Study93used an LVEF .
50% as cut-off for normal or mildly abnormal systolic LV
function and this cut-off value has meanwhile been used
or proposed by other investigators.60,94In the present
consensus document, an LVEF . 50% is also considered
consistent with the presence of normal or mildly abnormal
systolic LV function. LVEF needs to be assessed in accordance
to the recent recommendations for cardiac chamber quanti-
fication of the American Society of Echocardiography and
the European Association of Echocardiography.95It is of
importance to note that in HFNEF reduced long-axis shorten-
ing is frequently compensated for by increased short-axis
As already demonstrated by Frank, Starling, and Wiggers
and later re-appraised,96LV relaxation depends on end-
systolic load and volume.97–101The criterion of ‘presence
of normal or mildly abnormal LV function’ therefore needs
to be implemented with measures of LV volumes. To
exclude significantLV enlargement,95
end-systolic volume index cannot exceed 97 mL/m2and
49 mL/m2, respectively.
Another concern related to establishing normal or mildly
abnormal LV function deals with the time elapsed between
the clinical heart failure episode and the procurement of
Heart failure: a single or two syndromes? Listing of arguments favouring heart failure to be a single or two distinct syndromes.
How to diagnose diastolic heart failure2541
the LV systolic function data. According to the criteria of the
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Framingham
Heart Study, a definite or probable diagnosis of HFNEF
requires the information on LV systolic function to be
obtained within 72 h following the heart failure episode.93
This requirement may be obsolete because Doppler echocar-
diographic examinations of patients with hypertensive
pulmonary oedema performed sequentially at the time of
hospital admission and following stabilization revealed iden-
tical LVEF and LV end-diastolic volume without evidence of
improvement of LV systolic function in the days following
Evidence of abnormal left ventricular relaxation,
filling, diastolic distensibility, and diastolic stiffness
Do we need evidence of left ventricular dysfunction
during relaxation or diastole?
The need to obtain positive evidence of abnormal LV relax-
ation, filling, diastolic distensibility, and diastolic stiffness,
as proposed in the original guidelines of the European
Study Group,1has been challenged.60Recognizing the
difficulties in the assessment of diastolic LV dysfunction,
the hypothesis that measurement of diastolic LV dysfunction
was not required to make the diagnosis of HFNEF was
tested.60Ninety-two per cent of patients with a history of
heart failure, an LVEF . 50%, and evidence of LV concentric
remodelling had an elevated LV end-diastolic pressure and
all of them had at least one haemodynamic or Doppler echo-
cardiographic index of abnormal LV relaxation, filling, or
diastolic stiffness. In this group of patients, acquisition of
data on diastolic LV dysfunction therefore provided no
additional diagnostic information and was therefore only
of confirmatory significance. As this study looked at patients
with a well-established history of heart failure, these results
cannot be extrapolated to patients presenting solely with
symptoms of breathlessness without a history or physical
signs suggestive of congestive heart failure. Nevertheless,
this study among others,19,58–61clearly demonstrates that
evidence of concentric LV remodelling has important impli-
cations for the diagnosis of HFNEF and is a potential surro-
gate for direct evidence of diastolic LV dysfunction.94The
present consensus document (Figure 2) therefore considers
an LV wall mass index .122 g/m2(C) or an LV wall mass
pulmonary capillary wedge pressure; LVEDP, left ventricular end-diastolic pressure; t, time constant of left ventricular relaxation; b, constant of left ventricular
chamber stiffness; TD, tissue Doppler; E, early mitral valve flow velocity; E0, early TD lengthening velocity; NT-proBNP, N-terminal-pro brain natriuretic peptide;
BNP, brain natriuretic peptide; E/A, ratio of early (E) to late (A) mitral valve flow velocity; DT, deceleration time; LVMI, left ventricular mass index; LAVI, left
atrial volume index; Ard, duration of reverse pulmonary vein atrial systole flow; Ad, duration of mitral valve atrial wave flow.
Diagnostic flowchart on ‘How to diagnose HFNEF’ in a patient suspected of HFNEF. LVEDVI, left ventricular end-diastolic volume index; mPCW, mean
W.J. Paulus et al.
index .149 g/m2(F) sufficient evidence95for the diagnosis
of HFNEF when TD yields non-conclusive results or when
plasma levels of natriuretic peptides are elevated.
Invasive assessment of left ventricular dysfunction
during relaxation or diastole
Evidence of abnormal LV relaxation, filling, diastolic disten-
sibility, and diastolic stiffness can be acquired invasively
during cardiac catheterization. Invasively acquired evidence
of diastolic LV dysfunction continues to be considered as pro-
viding definite evidence of HFNEF.1,19,93,94Such evidence
consists of a time constant of LV relaxation (t) .48 ms, an
LV end-diastolic pressure .16 mmHg or a mean pulmonary
capillary wedge pressure .12 mmHg103–106(Figure 2). The
mathematics involved in deriving the time constant of LV
relaxation is explained in the appendix (Supplementary
material online). When LV end-diastolic pressure or pulmon-
ary capillary wedge pressure is elevated in the presence of a
normal LVEDVI, LV end-diastolic distensibility is considered
to be reduced. LV diastolic distensibility refers to the posi-
tion on a pressure–volume plot of the LV diastolic
pressure–volume relation107in contrast to LV stiffness,
which refers to a change in diastolic LV pressure relative
to diastolic LV volume (dP/dV) and equals the slope of the
diastolic LV pressure–volume relation. A diastolic LV stiffness
modulus .0.27 also provides diagnostic evidence of dias-
tolic LV dysfunction (see Supplementary material online,
Appendix). The inverse of LV stiffness is LV compliance
(dV/dP). Muscle stiffness (E) is the slope of the myocardial
stress–strain relation and represents the resistance to
stretch when the myocardium is subjected to stress. Calcu-
lation of stress (s) requires a geometric model of the LV and
calculation of strain (e) an assumption of an unstressed LV
dimension. Although muscle stiffness is generally considered
to reflect the material properties of the myocardium and
therefore be insensitive to acute neurohumoral changes,
recent clinical and experimental studies provided clear evi-
dence for altered muscle stiffness following administration
of nitric oxide,108endothelin-1,109or angiotensin II.110The
mathematics involved in deriving an LV or myocardial stiff-
ness modulus is outlined in the appendix (Supplementary
Blood flow Doppler assessment of left ventricular
dysfunction during relaxation or diastole
Isovolumic LV relaxation time (IVRT), ratio of peak early (E)
to peak atrial (A) Doppler mitral valve flow velocity, decel-
eration time (DT) of early Doppler mitral valve flow velocity,
and ratio of pulmonary vein systolic (S) and diastolic (D) flow
velocities were originally considered to be indicative of dias-
tolic LV dysfunction if they exceeded specific cut-off values
indexed for age groups.1These blood flow Doppler-derived
indices of diastolic LV dysfunction were subject of immedi-
ate critique111and subsequently more carefully scrutinized
in numerous studies.112–117These studies are summarized
in the appendix (Supplementary material online) and
showed a variable outcome of blood flow Doppler-derived
indices in terms of their predictive value for HFNEF.
When combining mitral valve blood flow Doppler with
pulmonary vein blood flow Doppler,11893% of patients
suspected of HFNEF showed evidence of diastolic LV dysfunc-
tion.119The strength of a combined use of mitral flow
velocity and pulmonary vein flow velocity is also supported
by observations in hypertensives, in which the combined
use of these variables provided a semiquantitative estimate
of LV end-diastolic pressure.120Both studies measured
duration of reversed pulmonary vein atrial systole flow
(Ard) and duration of mitral A wave flow (Ad) and used
their difference (Ard2Ad . 30 ms) to diagnose diastolic LV
Because of the absence of pseudonormalization on TD
lengthening velocity measurements, the use of blood flow
Doppler measures of diastolic LV function is no longer rec-
ommended as a first-line diagnostic approach to diastolic
LV dysfunction. Only when TD lengthening velocities are
suggestive but non-diagnostic or when plasma levels of
natriuretic peptides are elevated does the simultaneous pre-
sence of a low E/A ratio and a prolonged DT or a prolonged
Ard2Ad index provide diagnostic evidence of diastolic LV
dysfunction (Figure 2).
Tissue Doppler assessment of left ventricular dysfunction
during relaxation or diastole
TD measures tissue velocity relative to the transducer with
high spatial (mm) and temporal resolution (..100 s21).
The most frequently used modality of TD is measurement
of LV basal (‘annular’), longitudinal myocardial shortening,
or lengthening velocity. Measurements can be obtained
either at the septal or at the lateral side of the mitral
annulus. As explained in the appendix (Supplementary
material online), the peak systolic (S) shortening velocity
and the early diastolic (E0) lengthening velocities are con-
sidered to be sensitive measures of LV systolic or diastolic
Especially, the ratio of early mitral valve flow velocity (E)
divided by E0correlates closely with LV filling pressures.
E depends on left atrial driving pressure, LV relaxation
kinetics, and age but E0depends mostly on LV relaxation
kinetics and age. Hence, in the ratio E/E0, effects of LV
relaxation kinetics and age are eliminated and the ratio
becomes a measure of left atrial driving pressure or LV
filling pressure. E0can also be conceptualized as the
amount of blood entering the LV during early filling,
whereas E represents the gradient necessary to make this
blood enter the LV. A high E/E0thus represents a high
gradient for a low shift in volume. Information on LV filling
pressures can also be derived from the time interval
between the onset of E and the onset of E0(TE2E0).133,134
When the ratio E/E0exceeds 15, LV filling pressures are
elevated and when the ratio is lower than 8, LV filling press-
ures are low.135E/E0is a powerful predictor of survival after
myocardial infarction and E/E0. 15 is superior as predictor
of prognosis than clinical or other echocardiographic vari-
ables.136The close correlation between E/E0and LV filling
pressures has been confirmed in heart failure patients with
depressed (,50%) or preserved LV ejection fraction137and
in patients with slow relaxation or pseudonormal early
mitral valve flow velocity filling patterns.138In the diagnos-
tic flow charts shown in Figures 2 and 3, the ratio E/E0is
therefore considered diagnostic evidence of presence of
evidence of absence of HFNEF if E/E0, 8. An E/E0ratio
ranging from 8 to 15 is considered suggestive but non-
diagnostic evidence of diastolic LV dysfunction and needs
to be implemented with other non-invasive investigations
E/E0. 15,and diagnostic
How to diagnose diastolic heart failure2543
to confirm the diagnosis of HFNEF (Figure 2). The proposed
E/E0cut-off values are based on pulsed Doppler measure-
ments and on averaged velocities of lateral and septal
Strain and strain rate imaging
TD-derived strain rate and strain measurements are new
quantitative indices of regional intrinsic cardiac defor-
mation139and are presumed to be independent of transla-
tional motion incontrast
Assessment of regional deformation obviously implies that
all myocardial segments are to be investigated to rule out
diastolic LV dysfunction. In contrast, TD E/E0interrogates
global LV performance and is therefore preferred over
strain and strain rate measurements in the diagnostic flow-
charts of HFNEF (Figures 2 and 3). Potential future use of
strain and strain rate imaging for the assessment of diastolic
LV dysfunction is further highlighted in the appendix
(Supplementary material online).
Left atrial volume measurements
volume index) .32 mL/m2was first recognized in the elderly
as a strong predictor (P ¼ 0.003) of a cardiovascular event
with a higher predictive value than other echocardiographi-
cally derived indices such as LV mass index (P ¼ 0.014) or LV
diastolic dysfunction (P ¼ 0.029).140In a population-based
study, left atrial volume index was also strongly associated
with the severity and duration of diastolic LV dysfunction:
the left atrial volume index progressively increased from a
value of 23+6 mL/m2in normals to 25+8 mL/m2in mild
diastolic LV dysfunction, to 31+8 mL/m2in moderate dias-
tolic LV dysfunction, and finally to 48+12 mL/m2in severe
diastolic LV dysfunction.141Left atrial volume index was
therefore proposed as a biomarker of both diastolic LV dys-
function and cardiovascular risk.142,143A raised left atrial
volume index (.26 mL/m2) has recently been recognized as
a relatively load-independent marker of LV filling pressures
and of LV diastolic dysfunction in patients with suspected
heart failure and normal LVEF.116In these patients, left
Diagnostic flow chart on ‘How to exclude HFNEF’ in a patient presenting with breathlessness and no signs of fluid overload. S, TD shortening velocity.
W.J. Paulus et al.
atrial volume index is a more robust marker than left atrial
area or left atrial diameter.144,145For these reasons, the
present consensus document considers a left atrial volume
index .40 mL/m2to provide sufficient evidence of diastolic
LV dysfunction when the E/E0ratio is non-conclusive (i.e.
15 . E/E0. 8) or when plasma levels of natriuretic peptides
are elevated (Figure 2). Similarly, a left atrial volume index
is proposed as a prerequisite to exclude
HFNEF (Figure 3). Left atrial volume index values of 29 and
40 mL/m2correspond, respectively, to the lower cut-off
values of mildly abnormal and severely abnormal LA size in
the recent recommendations for cardiac chamber quantifi-
cation of the American Society of Echocardiography and the
European Association of Echocardiography.95The conduit,
reservoir, and pump functions of the left atrium in normal
and pathophysiological conditions are further explained in
the appendix (Supplementary material online).
Heart failure biomarkers: the natriuretic peptides
Atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) and brain natriuretic
peptide (BNP) are produced by atrial and ventricular myo-
cardium in response to an increase of atrial or ventricular
diastolic stretch and their secretion results in natriuresis,
vasodilation, and improved LV relaxation. Cardiac myocytes
produce pro-BNP, which is subsequently cleaved in the blood
into NT-proBNP and BNP.
In patients with HFNEF,146,147NT-proBNP values correlate
with early diastolic LV relaxation indices, such as the time
constant of LV relaxation (t), late diastolic LV relaxation
indices, such as LV end-diastolic pressure, and the LV stiff-
ness modulus. BNP and NT-proBNP values also vary with
the degree of LV diastolic dysfunction: progressively higher
values were observed in patients with a mitral valve flow
velocity pattern of impaired LV relaxation, pseudonormali-
zation, or restriction.117,148The area under the receiver
operating characteristics (ROC) curve of NT-proBNP (0.83)
equalled the area observed for LV end-diastolic pressure
(0.84) and exceeded the area observed for an abnormal TD
E0/A0ratio (0.81).146Combining NT-proBNP with the E/E0
ratio increased the area under the ROC curve from 83
to 95%.146In contrast to its usefulness in symptomatic iso-
lated diastolic LV dysfunction, natriuretic peptides were a
suboptimal screening test for preclinical diastolic LV
In normal individuals, the concentration of NT-proBNP
rises with age and is higher in women than in men.150BNP
and NT-proBNP levels can be influenced by comorbidities
such as sepsis,151liver failure,152or kidney failure.153,154
Plasma levels of BNP rise independently of LV filling press-
ures once glomerular filtration rate falls below 60 mL/min.
Furthermore, BNP and NT-proBNP plasma levels do not
exclusively reflect left atrial distension but can also rise as
a result of right atrial distension. The latter is especially
important when pulmonary hypertension occurs as a result
of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,155pulmonary
embolism,156or mechanical ventilation.157Finally, obesity
lowers BNP levels158,159and lower cut-off values have to
be used once body mass index exceeds 35 kg/m2.
The flowcharts for the diagnosis or exclusion of HFNEF
(Figures 2 and 3) do not consider an elevated BNP or
NT-proBNP to provide sufficient evidence for diastolic LV
dysfunction and require additional non-invasive examina-
tions. For the diagnosis of HFNEF (Figure 2), a high positive
predictive value was aimed for when choosing the cut-off
values of NT-proBNP (220 pg/mL; Roche Diagnostics) and of
BNP (200 pg/mL; Triage Biosite). For the exclusion of
HFNEF (Figure 3), a high negative predictive value was
aimed for and the respective cut-off values of NT-proBNP
(120 pg/mL) and of BNP (100 pg/mL) were adjusted accord-
ingly. NT-proBNP values of 120 and 220 pg/mL yielded,
respectively, a negative predictive value of 93% and a
positive predictive value of 80%.146BNP values of 100
and 200 pg/mL yielded, respectively, a negative predictive
value of 96% and a positive predictive value of 83%.160
Cut-off values of NT-proBNP were derived from ROC analysis
performed in HFNEF patients presenting with exertional dys-
pnoea.146An ROC analysis for BNP in HFNEF patients pre-
senting with exertional dyspnoea has not been reported.
Cut-off values of BNP were therefore derived from ROC
analysis performed in HFNEF patients presenting in the
emergency room with acute heart failure.160As cut-off
values of NT-proBNP and BNP were derived from different
HFNEF subgroups, their respective magnitudes and ranges
cannot be compared. To achieve satisfactory positive pre-
dictive values, the diagnostic cut-offs of NT-proBNP and
BNP had to be raised to a level, at which sensitivity drops
below 80%. This results from the overlap of NT-proBNP and
BNP values between controls and HFNEF patients, especially
when the HFNEF patients present with exertional dys-
pnoea.117Natriuretic peptides are therefore recommended
mainly for exclusion of HFNEF and not for diagnosis of
HFNEF. Furthermore, when used for diagnostic purposes,
natriuretic peptides do not provide diagnostic stand-alone
evidence of HFNEF and always need to be implemented
with other non-invasive investigations.
Cardiac magnetic resonance
The specific advantage of cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR)
over echocardiography is the possibility to acquire images in
any selected plane or along any selected axis. This makes
CMR the gold standard for LV volume, LA volume, and LV
mass measurements.161,162A routine CMR exam in the
setting of heart failure will acquire the following images:
cine images (same slice over the cardiac cycle) with a set
of contiguous short-axis slices, covering the entire heart
from base to apex and a set of long-axis slices (two, three,
and four chamber). CMR can provide a whole range of LV
filling parameters which are identical or nearly identical to
those obtained with echocardiography. As such, CMR is a
valid alternative for those patients who do not have an ade-
quate echocardiographic image quality to reliably obtain
these parameters. Moreover, CMR constitutes not only a
valid alternative to echocardiography but could also be
the first-choice technique if small changes in LA or LV
volumes and in LV mass are expected (e.g. when evaluating
progression of disease or reaction to therapy). Finally,
several morphological and functional parameters such as
tissue characterization or LV diastolic untwisting can only
be assessed by CMR. These parameters contain important
novel information for the identification of ischaemic, inflam-
matory, or infiltrative myocardial disease and for the evalu-
ation of diastolic LV dysfunction. Further details on the use
of CMR are available in the appendix (Supplementary
Because of limited availability of CMR facilities, CMR is
currently considered to be a research tool and therefore
How to diagnose diastolic heart failure2545
not included in the diagnostic flowcharts of HFNEF. As the
clinical use of CMR is expanding and starting to address dias-
tolic LV dysfunction,163indices of diastolic LV dysfunction
derived from CMR will probably have to be included in
future diagnostic strategies of HFNEF.
How to diagnose heart failure with normal
left ventricular ejection fraction
This consensus statement on ‘How to diagnose DHF?’ retains
a diagnostic strategy of three requirements that need to be
satisfied to diagnose HFNEF (Figure 2). These requirements
are: (i) signs or symptoms of congestive heart failure;
(ii) normal or mildly abnormal systolic LV function, and (iii)
evidence of diastolic LV dysfunction. Since many patients
with HFNEF present with breathlessness and no signs of
fluid overload, symptoms are considered sufficient clinical
evidence to suggest the presence of congestive heart
failure. A LVEF of 50% is proposed as cut-off value of
mildly abnormal LV systolic function and an LVEDVI of
97 mL/m2as cut-off value of the absence of significant LV
enlargement. Invasive diagnostic evidence of diastolic LV
dysfunction can be obtained by measuring the time constant
of LV relaxation, LV end-diastolic pressure, pulmonary
capillary wedge pressure, or the LV stiffness modulus. Non-
invasive diagnostic evidence of diastolic LV dysfunction
is preferably derived from myocardial TD (E/E0. 15). If
myocardial TD yields values suggestive but non-diagnostic
for diastolic LV dysfunction (15 . E/E0. 8), TD needs to be
implemented with other non-invasive investigations to
provide diagnostic evidence of diastolic LV dysfunction.
These non-invasive investigations can consist of: (i) a
blood flow Doppler of mitral valve flow velocity (E/A ratio
and DT combined), or of pulmonary vein flow velocity
(Ard2Ad index); (ii) an echocardiographic measure of LV
mass index or of left atrial volume index; (iii) an electrocar-
diogram with evidence of atrial fibrillation; and (iv) a
determination of plasma BNP or NT-proBNP. If plasma
NT-proBNP . 220 pg/mL or BNP . 200 pg/mL, diagnostic
evidence of diastolic LV dysfunction also requires additional
non-invasive investigations, which can consist of: (i) TD (E/E0
ratio); (ii) a blood flow Doppler (E/A ratio and DTcombined;
Ard2Ad index); (iii) echo measures of LV mass index or left
atrial volume index; and (iv) electrocardiographic evidence
of atrial fibrillation. The proposed use of different echocar-
diographic techniques, which includes measures derived
from mitral valve flow velocity (E/A, DT), pulmonary vein
flow velocity (Ard2Ad), and TD (E0), allows for a com-
prehensive non-invasive assessment of LV relaxation, LV
diastolic stiffness, and LV filling pressures.164
How to exclude heart failure with normal
left ventricular ejection fraction
HFNEF is frequently a difficult differential diagnosis in a
work-up for breathlessness in the absence of signs of fluid
overload. A strategy is therefore proposed to exclude
HFNEF (Figure 3). If a patient with breathlessness and no
signs of fluid overload has a NT-proBNP , 120 pg/mL or a
BNP , 100 pg/mL, any form of heart failure is virtually
ruled out because of the high negative predictive value of
the natriuretic peptides,146,160
and pulmonary disease
becomes the most likely cause of breathlessness. If an echo-
cardiogram confirms the absence of valvular or pericardial
disease, LV volumes and LVEF should be measured in accord-
ance to the recent recommendations of the American
Society of Echocardiography and the European Association
of Echocardiography.95If LVEF exceeds 50%, if LVEDVI is
,76 mL/m2, and if the patient has no atrial fibrillation,
atrial dilatation, LV hypertrophy, low TD S or high TD E/E0,
the diagnosis of HFNEF is ruled out.
As HFNEF currently accounts for more than 50% of all heart
failure patients and as the prevalence of HFNEF in the heart
failure population rises by ?1% a year,8an updated set of
diagnostic criteria for HFNEF is required. The diagnostic
flowcharts on HFNEF proposed in this consensus statement
provide a strategy on ‘How to diagnose HFNEF’ (Figure 2)
and on ‘How to exclude HFNEF’ (Figure 3). The diagnostic
strategy on ‘How to diagnose HFNEF’ is specifically intended
for patients suspected of having HFNEF and is primarily
based on the positive predictive value of successive
examinations. The diagnostic strategy on ‘How to exclude
HFNEF’ is proposed for patients presenting with breathless-
ness and no physical signs of fluid overload and is mainly
based on the negative predictive value of successive
examinations. These updated strategies for the diagnosis
of HFNEF should be helpful not only for individual patient
management but also for patient selection of future clinical
trials looking at treatments for HFNEF.
Supplementary material is available at European Heart
The authors gratefully acknowledge the thoughtful comments of the
members of the board of the Heart Failure and Echocardiography
Associations of the European Society of Cardiology.
Conflict of interest: none declared.
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