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There is little recent information on the prevalence of heart failure in the United Kingdom. Assuming that patients with heart failure would be taking diuretic drugs all such patients were identified in three general practices in north west London. The practice records of these patients were examined to determine which patients had heart failure. Of the 30,204 patients served by the practices, 117 had heart failure, a prevalence of 3.9 per 1000 patients. The mean age of these patients was 74 years. The prevalence of heart failure among patients under 65 years of age was 0.6 per 1000 patients rising to 27.7 per 1000 among those aged 65 years and over. The aetiology of heart failure was considered to be coronary heart disease for 32% of patients, valve disease for 19%, hypertension for 6%, cor pulmonale for 4% and congenital heart disease for 2%. The aetiology for the remaining 37% of patients was unknown. Most patients were referred to hospital and only 20% had been treated solely by the general practitioner. An electrocardiogram and chest radiograph had been obtained for over 80% of patients but only 28% had an echocardiogram. Heart failure occurs primarily in elderly patients, and coronary heart disease is the dominant aetiological factor.