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Objectives. This study sought to explore people's experiences of being diagnosed and subsequently living with congestive heart failure.

Design. Qualitative methodology involving in-depth, semi-structured interviews and interpretative phenomenological analytic techniques.

Methods. Twenty-five patients (twenty-one men) with congestive heart failure were interviewed at City Hospital, Birmingham, UK. Twelve were current in-patients and thirteen were out-patients. Ages ranged between 35 and 83 years.

Results. Four main themes were identified in the transcripts, namely the diagnostic process (identifying symptoms, seeking medical help and coming to terms with the diagnosis); change in activities, life-style, work and self/identity; the role of others in adjusting to life with chronic illness and negative and positive emotional reactions.

Conclusions. Participants felt restricted in many aspects of their daily lives, highlighting the significant impact of the condition. Participants' social relationships and social activities were particularly important in helping with adjustment to life with heart failure. Implications of these results for interventions, education and self-management are discussed. Further research is required to investigate the benefits of professional psychological support for heart failure patients.