Purpose of review
Changes in epidemiology and advances in the treatment of coronary artery disease, hypertension and diabetes mellitus have increased the prevalence of heart failure in the general population, and also the number of patients with heart failure presenting for surgery. Particularly in the perioperative period, patients with chronic heart failure are faced with numerous triggers of acute decompensation that can partly be avoided or treated. Patients without preexisting myocardial contractile dysfunction may sustain severe perioperative complications, e.g. myocardial infarction, with subsequent acute heart failure as a consequence. Approaches for diagnosis and treatment in these situations may vary considerably.
Patients with preexisting heart failure undergoing non-cardiac surgery suffer substantial morbidity and mortality despite advances in perioperative care. The importance of heart failure as an independent risk factor is underlined by the fact that patients with coronary artery disease but without heart failure have a similar 30-day mortality rate to the general population. B-type natriuretic peptide testing is an attractive and non-invasive tool in non-surgical patients for the diagnosis of heart failure, but its role in the perioperative period for the diagnosis of myocardial contractile dysfunction is less clear. For inotropic support, levosimendan, a myofilament calcium sensitizer, has become available in several European countries, and encouraging positive reports have recently been published in this area.
The role of B-type natriuretic peptide testing in the perioperative period is confounded by several variables that limit its use in that setting. New developments in positive inotropic therapy are challenging older and potentially harmful treatment strategies.