Medication and Other Therapies for Heart Failure Patients
If you receive a heart failure diagnosis, your doctor may explore other heart failure treatments such as medications and lifestyle changes in place of—or before recommending—the use of more invasive procedures, such as implanting a pulmonary artery (PA) pressure monitor, pacemaker, implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD), or left ventricular assist device. Your doctor may also recommend surgical procedures to correct an underlying medical condition that may be causing your heart failure.
Heart failure medication
While taking medication will not cure heart failure, it may help control your symptoms. Some common medications for heart failure include:
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors: These drugs widen blood vessels to lower blood pressure and improve circulation to help the heart pump more easily.
- Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs): For people who cannot take ACE inhibitors, ARBs are alternative drugs for lowering blood pressure and improving circulation.
- Beta blockers: These drugs slow the heart rate, help the heart relax and decrease production of harmful substances the body makes as a response to heart failure. Beta blockers also lower blood pressure and over time improve the heart’s ability to pump blood.
- Digitalis: This drug strengthens the heart muscle’s contraction force, improving circulation. It also slows the heart rate, which can restore a steady heart rhythm.
- Diuretics: These medications stimulate the kidneys to flush more fluid and salt from the body. This can help ease the edema (swelling) that heart failure can cause.
- Vasodilators: These drugs dilate, or open up, your blood vessels by relaxing the muscles in your artery walls. As the arteries open, blood flows more easily through them so your heart doesn't have to pump as hard.
- Aldosterone antagonists: These drugs are diuretics that have additional benefits to make your heart work better, such as reversing scarring of the heart.
Taking medication may help control your heart failure. However, this treatment option can involve risks, including side effects. Take your medications as prescribed and consult with your doctor about any side effects.
In the earliest stages of heart failure, practicing healthy habits may be all you need to manage your condition. In later stages, your doctor may recommend healthy lifestyle changes to support your treatment and overall health.
Healthy lifestyle changes include:
- Quitting smoking
- Controlling your weight and maintaining a low-salt, low-fat, low-alcohol diet
- Reducing stress
- Keeping track of your daily fluid intake
- Avoiding or reducing caffeine
- Monitoring your blood pressure
- Getting plenty of rest
Sometimes, your doctor may recommend surgery to correct a problem that is causing your heart failure. Surgical procedures that are sometimes used to treat heart failure include:
Angioplasty, or percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI)
This procedure opens blockages in the coronary arteries that can cut off the heart’s blood supply, causing heart failure. Once cleared, coronary arteries can return to delivering blood to the heart muscle for better heart function. A percutaneous coronary intervention takes place in a cardiac catheterization lab.
In bypass surgery, healthy blood vessels from your leg, arm or chest are used to replace a blocked artery in your heart. During the surgery, the surgeon attaches the healthy vessels to the diseased artery, allowing the blood to flow around—or bypass—the blocked area.
When medications, surgery and interventions do not help, a doctor may prescribe a heart transplant, a rare choice used only in extreme cases. A heart transplant can improve a heart-failure patient’s quality of life dramatically, but hearts are donated very rarely and the cost is very high. While waiting for a transplant, some patients receive a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), which is a mechanical pump that supports the heart.