Heart failure (HF) is a rapidly growing public health issue with an estimated prevalence of >37.7 million individuals globally. HF is a shared chronic phase of cardiac functional impairment secondary to many aetiologies, and patients with HF experience numerous symptoms that affect their quality of life, including dyspnoea, fatigue, poor exercise tolerance, and fluid retention. Although the underlying causes of HF vary according to sex, age, ethnicity, comorbidities, and environment, the majority of cases remain preventable. HF is associated with increased morbidity and mortality, and confers a substantial burden to the health-care system. HF is a leading cause of hospitalization among adults and the elderly. In the USA, the total medical costs for patients with HF are expected to rise from US$20.9 billion in 2012 to $53.1 billion by 2030. Improvements in the medical management of risk factors and HF have stabilized the incidence of this disease in many countries. In this Review, we provide an overview of the latest epidemiological data on HF, and propose future directions for reducing the ever-increasing HF burden.