BACKGROUND: There is increasing evidence that discharge planning and post-discharge support for CHF patients can contribute greatly to the medical management of heart failure (CHF) in the community and that the quality of the CHF patient's close personal relationships can influence outcome in CHF. However, there has been little research on the impact of CHF on the family or the role of the family in the management of the condition. In this paper, we provide a review and analysis of studies that have explicitly investigated these issues in the informal carers of CHF patients. RESULTS OF THE REVIEW: Sixteen papers were identified that examined the role and/or impact of informal caregiving for CHF patients. Our main findings were: demands specific to CHF caregiving were identified, e.g., monitoring complex medical and self-care regimen, disturbed sleep and frequent hospitalisation of patients. Relatively high levels of emotional distress were identified in CHF caregivers. Few studies explicitly investigated the role of informal carers in the management of CHF. Studies were limited in number, scope and quality. CONCLUSION: Caring for a family member with CHF can affect the well-being of those responsible for care, which may have consequences for the CHF patient's health. Further studies are needed to clarify these issues and to examine the role of informal caregivers in the management of CHF in the community.