Facts About Heart Failure Medications
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 health.
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 and wheezing.
* 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 dehydrated.
* 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 enough fluids.
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.