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To compare prognosis in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) with or without concomitant heart failure.Patients aged 65 years or over with a general practitioner (GP)'s diagnosis of COPD but without a prior diagnosis of heart failure underwent an extensive diagnostic work-up including echocardiography and pulmonary function tests in the period 2001–03. An expert panel then confirmed the presence or absence of COPD according to the GOLD criteria and (previously undiagnosed) heart failure according to the criteria of the ESC heart failure guidelines. This cohort of 405 patients was followed up for a mean duration of 4.2 (SD 1.4) years. The GP's electronic medical files relating to the participants, including any specialist letters, were scrutinized until April 2007 for information about drug use, exacerbations of COPD, pneumonia, hospitalizations, death, and cause of death. The mean age of patients at the start of the study was 73.0 (SD 5.3) years, and 54% were male. The presence of newly detected heart failure significantly increased all-cause mortality independent of gender, age, history of ischaemic heart disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, atrial fibrillation, smoking, and cardiovascular drug use at baseline (adjusted hazard ratio, 2.1; 95% confidence interval, 1.2–3.6; P=0.01).Heart failure is a strong independent predictor of all-cause mortality in patients with a diagnosis of COPD.