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The aim of this study is to compare the effects of a 24 h intravenous infusion of levosimendan and a 48 h infusion of dobutamine on invasive haemodynamics in patients with acutely decompensated chronic NYHA class III–IV heart failure. All patients were receiving optimal oral therapy including a β-blocker.This was a multinational, randomized, double-blind, phase IV study in 60 patients; follow-up was 1 month. There was a significant increase in cardiac index and a significant decrease in pulmonary capillary wedge pressure (PCWP) at 24 and 48 h for both dobutamine and levosimendan. The improvement in cardiac index with levosimendan was not significantly different from dobutamine at 24 h (P = 0.07), but became significant at 48 h (0.44 ± 0.56 vs. 0.66 ± 0.63 L/min/m2; P = 0.04). At 24 h, the reduction in the mean change in PCWP from baseline was similar for levosimendan and dobutamine, however, at 48 h the difference was more marked for levosimendan (−3.6 ± 7.6 vs. −8.3 ± 6.7 mmHg; P = 0.02). No difference was observed between the groups for change in NYHA class, β-blocker use, hospitalizations, treatment discontinuations or rescue medication use. Reduction in B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) was significantly greater with levosimendan at 48 h (P = 0.03). According to physician's assessment, the improvement in fatigue (P = 0.01) and dyspnoea (P = 0.04) was in favour of dobutamine treatment, and hypotension was significantly more frequent with levosimendan (P = 0.007). No increase in atrial fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia was seen in either group.A 24 h levosimendan infusion achieved haemodynamic and neurohormonal improvement that was at least comparable at 24 h and superior at 48 h to a 48 h dobutamine infusion.