Heart Failure Treatments
If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, medications may improve your heart function, making it stronger and smaller, while slowing the progression of the disease. Many variables determine which medications are appropriate, including the degree of heart failure, the presence of kidney dysfunction and other diseases the patient may have. Medications used to treat heart failure include:
- Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors: These medications open up your blood vessels to allow the heart to pump blood more effectively. They also block neurohormones that can damage the heart.
- Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs): Sometimes used as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, ACE inhibitors, these medications also open up blood vessels to allow the heart to pump blood.
- Beta blockers: As the name implies, these medications block the effect of neurohormones, which can damage the heart. Beta blockers also slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure.
- Diuretics: Commonly known as “water pills,” these medications help rid the body of excess fluid and sodium that causes the body to retain fluid.
- Digoxin: This medication helps strengthen the force of your heart’s contraction.
- Spironolactone/eplernone: This medication blocks aldosterone, a hormone produced by the body that can increase heart failure symptoms.
Be sure to always take your medication daily, just as prescribed by your healthcare provider. Use a chart or list to keep track of all medications and bring this list with you to all of your medical appointments. Do not skip doses or stop taking any medicine without first talking with your physician or nurse.
Salt (sodium) causes your body to retain extra fluid. This makes your heart work harder, and raises your blood pressure. For heart failure patients, a low-salt diet (less than two grams of sodium a day) can relieve this added stress to the heart.
Tips for reducing your salt intake:
- When cooking, add spices and herbs for extra flavor.
- Do not add salt to foods at the table.
- Talk with your doctor or nurse about using a salt substitute.
- Select fresh foods rather than prepared items, which are often higher in sodium.
- When shopping, read food labels, avoiding foods that have any of these listed as one of the first three ingredients: salt, brine, MSG, baking powder or any item with the word sodium (or monosodium glutamate).
- Avoid lunch meats, cheese, ham, hot dogs, canned soups, canned vegetables, canned meats, pickles, chips, pretzels and “fast foods,” which usually are high in sodium.
Your nurse, physician or dietitian may provide more detailed diet guidelines that include limiting your fluid intake. Certain foods count as fluids, including flavored gelatin, ice cream, yogurt, pudding and fruit juices.
If you are asked to limit fluids, talk with your physician, nurse or dietitian about using small amounts of sugar-free candy or gum to help relieve symptoms of dry mouth.
In addition to medications and dietary modifications, the following lifestyle changes can also help treat your heart failure symptoms:
- Weigh yourself every morning: Rapid weight gain is a heart failure warning sign.
- Exercise regularly: Talk with your physician about starting an exercise program or joining a formal cardiac rehabilitation program. After a hospital stay, slowly increase your activities each day.
- Manage obesity: If you are overweight, talk with your physician about a weight-loss program, including diet, exercise and counseling.
- Minimize or eliminate tobacco and alcohol: Stop smoking and drink alcohol sparingly, if at all.
- Stay current on vaccinations: Talk to your physician or nurse about influenza and pneumococcal vaccinations.