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Chicago cartoon by Rob Bou-Saab
Heart Failure Medications
(ARA) – For heart failure patients, the right medications can have a
big impact on quality of life. Not only do they help stabilize heart
function, they can also help patients live longer, have fewer symptoms
and stay out of the hospital.
But to be effective, patients must take an active role in understanding
the medicines they are taking and foster open communication with their
health care providers about how the medicines are affecting their
For example, some patients may be tempted to stop taking their medicine
when they start to feel better. However, it is important to continue
taking the medicine, as its purpose is not only to make the patient
feel better in the short run, but also to treat the underlying disease
and improve health in the long run.
Conversely, if a patient is taking medicine and feeling worse, or not
feeling any better, it is important to discuss this with a doctor, as
medicines may need to be changed or adjusted for maximum benefits. Some
of these symptoms may be side effects from certain medicines.
Most people with heart failure require several medicines for the best
results. The list below describes the most common medicines available
that may be prescribed for heart failure patients, courtesy of the
Heart Failure Society of America. Patients should ask their doctor or
their nurse for complete information on any medicines they are taking.
* ACE Inhibitor Pills – This medicine works by blocking the effects of
harmful stress hormones. They also control high blood pressure and
prevent heart attacks. They do not usually cause a lot of side effects
in most people but in some they can cause cough or rarely, swelling of
the mucous membranes in the mouth.
* Beta-Blocker Pills – This group of medicines improve heart function.
They also control high blood pressure, prevent heart attacks, and help
regulate the heart rhythm. They work by blocking the effects of harmful
stress hormones. Side effects include dizziness, fatigue, fluid buildup
* Diuretics – Also called water pills, these work by helping the body
get rid of extra fluid. Less fluid in the lungs makes breathing easier
and means less swelling in other parts of the body. Patients taking a
diuretic should have their potassium levels checked periodically.
Diuretics can also cause people to lose too much fluid and become
* Digoxin Pills – Improve heart function by making the heart beat
stronger and also may help to correct hormonal imbalance that makes
heart failure worse. Patients with heart failure breathe more easily
and feel better as a result. Excessive amounts of digoxin may cause
nausea or vomiting, blurred or colored vision or abnormal heart rhythm,
which may cause palpitation or black outs.
* Aldosterone Antagonist Pills – These work by blocking the effects of
a stress hormone called aldosterone. One study shows that people with
advanced heart failure who take aldosterone pills live longer and stay
out of the hospital. It can increase potassium levels and can cause
breast enlargement or tenderness, especially in men.
* ARB Pills – These reduce the impact of certain harmful stress
hormones. They have actions similar to those of ACE inhibitors and may
be recommended for people who can not tolerate an ACE inhibitor. They
can cause dizziness, decrease in blood pressure or problems with
kidneys or potassium level.
* Combination Isosorbide Dinitrate and Hydralazine Pills – this
combination is called a vasodilator because it relaxes blood vessels
and eases the work of the heart. The combination may work particularly
well in people of African American descent. This combination can cause
headaches, especially right after patients start taking the pills.
Other side effects include dizziness, nausea, vomiting and feeling
lightheaded or even fainting if patients drink alcohol or do not drink
Patients need to be sure to tell every doctor and nurse they see that
they have heart failure and what medicines they are taking including
over the counter or herbal remedies. Certain medicines can make heart
failure worse. Heart failure patients should be particularly cautious
about taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs),
calcium channel blockers and most antiarrhythmic medicines.
For more information on heart failure, visit the Heart Failure Society
of America Web site at www.abouthf.org.
Courtesy of ARA Content
© Suburban Journals of Chicago Inc.
published by Suburban Journals of Chicago Inc.