For many years the functional sequelae of chronic coronary artery disease (CAD) were considered irreversible. Evidence accrued over the past three decades proves that this concept is not necessarily true. Non-randomised studies demonstrated that coronary revascularisation (CR) confers symptomatic and prognostic benefits to patients with CAD and heart failure. Based on available studies, one can assume that the beneficial effect of CR in heart failure derives primarily from recovery of contractile function in 'hibernating myocardium' (HM), i.e., chronically dysfunctional, but viable, myocardium subtended by stenosed coronary arteries which recovers after CR. Cardiac imaging with echocardiography, single photon and positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance allows the identification of HM. These techniques have comparable predictive values in patients with moderate left ventricular impairment. PET studies have shown that resting myocardial blood flow is preserved in most cases of HM while its main feature is a severe impairment of coronary flow reserve. Thus, the pathophysiology of HM is more complex than initially postulated. Recent evidence that repetitive ischaemia in patients can be cumulative and lead to more severe and prolonged stunning, lends further support to the hypothesis that, at least initially, stunning and HM are two facets of the same coin.
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