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Taking Medicine to Control Heart Failure

The heart is a muscle that pumps oxygen-rich blood to all parts of the body. When you have heart failure, the heart is not able to pump as well as it should. Blood and fluid may back up into the lungs (congestive heart failure), and some parts of the body don’t get enough oxygen-rich blood to work normally. These problems lead to the symptoms of heart failure.

Medications can help your heart work better, but follow your doctor's directions exactly to ensure the best result.

Pharmacist talking to woman about pills.
Have all your prescriptions filled. Talk to a pharmacist if you have questions.
Why take your medicine?

  • They help you feel better. That means you can do more of the things you enjoy.

  • They help your heart work better.

  • They can help you stay out of the hospital.

  • They can prevent shortness of breath and swelling in your feet.

  • They can improve blood flow to the rest of your body and prevent other organs from being affected by your heart's decreased function.

Know your medicines

You may take one or more of the medications below. Be sure you know which ones you take:

  • ACE inhibitors lower blood pressure and decrease strain on the heart. This makes it easier for the heart to pump. These also help remodel the heart which can promote improved pumping ability.

  • Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) work like ACE inhibitors. These are prescribed for some people who can't take ACE inhibitors. Some people who take ACE inhibitors develop a cough.

  • Beta-blockers help lower blood pressure and slow your heart rate. This lessens the work your heart has to do. Beta-blockers may improve the heart’s pumping action and strength over time. If you have severe pulmonary disease, you may not be able to take these medicines.

  • Diuretics (“water pills”) help the body get rid of excess water by excreting salt. This helps prevent swelling, especially in your ankles. They can also help you breath better if you have fluid in your lungs. Having less fluid to pump means your heart doesn’t have to work as hard. A side effect of this medicine is having to urinate more often. Some diuretics make your body lose a mineral called potassium. Your doctor will tell you if you need to take supplements or eat more foods high in potassium.

  • Digoxin helps your heart pump with more strength. This helps your heart pump more blood with each beat. So, more oxygen-rich blood travels to the rest of the body.

  • Aldosterone blockers help alter hormones and decrease strain on the heart.

  • Hydralazine and nitrates are two separate medications used together to treat heart failure. They may come in one “combination” pill. They lower blood pressure and decrease how hard the heart has to pump.

Tips for taking your medicine

  • Take your medications exactly as directed. Follow the directions on the label.

  • Take your medications at the same time or times each day.

  • If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember — unless it’s almost time for your next dose. If so, skip the missed dose. Do not take a double dose.

  • Never change the dose or stop taking a medication unless your doctor tells you. Please tell your doctor if you don't understand how to take your medications, or if you are having difficulty getting your medications.

  • If you miss too many doses, you are at risk for being admitted to the hospital for shortness of breath and worsening of heart failure symptoms.

Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell art team.
Online Medical Reviewer: Larson, Kim APRN, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 4/1/2016
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