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Cardiac failure is suspected of contributing to mortality from pneumonia in children in developing countries, but its role has not been clearly defined.A convenience sample of 47 children admitted to Goroka Hospital in Papua New Guinea was studied prospectively with ultrasound, chest radiographs and assays of creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase.Seven (15%) of the 47 children died. Of the 43 children who had a chest radiograph, 31 (72%) had severe or very severe pneumonia. No child had poor contractility of the heart on ultrasound examination or unequivocally raised cardiac isoenzymes; therefore no evidence of myocardial injury from sepsis was found. However, ultrasound examination showed dilatation of the right ventricle or hepatic veins in 12 (26%) of the children (both were dilated in 7 children) and 4 (33%) of these children died; this suggests that right ventricular cardiac failure secondary to pulmonary hypertension was present in 26% (95% confidence interval, 14 to 40%) of these children with severe pneumonia. Tachycardia was not associated with right ventricular dilatation on ultrasound, but 3 of the 4 children with more than 3 cm of liver palpable in the abdomen had right ventricular dilatation. Only 4 of the 12 children with right heart failure had hepatomegaly, tachycardia, raised jugular venous pressure or peripheral edema.Right ventricular failure is common in children with severe pneumonia, and it is probably caused by pulmonary hypertension rather than septic toxemia. The clinical signs of heart failure are unreliable. There is no evidence that digoxin is effective treatment for right ventricular failure secondary to pulmonary hypertension.