Congestive cardiac failure causes activation of various neurohumoral responses that increase total peripheral resistance and promote salt and water retention. These effects increase blood pressure and organ perfusion in the short term, but ultimately cause further cardiac decompensation by increasing ventricular afterload and cardiac work. The role of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system and the catecholamines is partially understood, and blockade of these systems as a treatment of heart failure is now established. The role of vasopressin in heart failure is more controversial, but there is now compelling evidence that vasopressin may have important vasoconstrictor actions in addition to its fluid retaining properties. Atrial natriuretic factor is a newly described cardiac hormone released from the atrium. Atrial natriuretic factor causes natriuresis, diuresis, vasodilatation, suppression of thirst, and suppression of both renin and aldosterone. These actions largely counteract the effects of the renin-angiotensin system and vasopressin. Plasma atrial natriuretic factor has been reported to be markedly elevated in human and experimental heart failure, and may act to limit the neurohumoral response to reduced cardiac output. This review summarizes our understanding of the vasoactive hormones and reports experimental evidence supporting a pathophysiological role for vasopressin and atrial natriuretic factor in congestive cardiac failure.