Most patients with heart failure are prescribed medications to help improve heart function. These medications very greatly, and forms of treatment depend upon the individual and stage of heart failure. Medications that are considered standard treatments for heart failure include the following:
Vasodilators, particularly ACE inhibitors (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors), are considered a cornerstone of heart failure drug therapy. Vasodilators directly or indirectly cause the blood vessel walls to widen and relax, which decreases the pressure needed to fill the heart's left ventricle, allowing the heart to pump more normally.
Inotropes such as digoxin improve the effectiveness of the heart's pumping action.
Diuretics reduce the volume of fluid in the body, which eases the heart's pumping action. These drugs are prescribed for almost all patients who are experiencing fluid buildup in the body and swelling in the tissues.
Beta-blockers reduce the heart's tendency to beat faster. In some heart failure patients, the heart tries to compensate for its weakened pumping action by beating faster, which puts more strain on it. These drugs allow the heart to maintain a slower rate and reduce blood pressure.
Blood thinners, which can help prevent blood from clotting. Because people with heart failure are at risk of developing blood clots, physicians may prescribe these types of drugs to help prevent stroke or atrial fibrillation.
Antiarrhythmic drugs are also used to help treat irregular heart rhythms, a particular danger for patients with heart failure.
Medications often carry side effects, which need to be monitored closely by physicians. Additionally, because of the complexity of heart failure, many patients require multiple medications at varying doses to adequately control their disease and symptoms.