Heart failure treatment

What treatment is available?

Treatment for heart failure will depend upon what is causing your heart failure and what symptoms you have. The main aims of treatment are to:

  • Treat any underlying conditions
  • Alleviate symptoms
  • Avoid hospital admissions
  • Improve your quality of life
  • Prolong life

These aims are mostly achieved by taking different kinds of drugs for your heart - often a combination of drugs will be used. Your treatment may change quite often, depending on your symptoms. So it’s important that you tell your doctor about any changes to how you are feeling as soon as possible.

The following groups of drugs can all be used to help alleviate symptoms of heart failure, prevent complications and help improve your quality of life:

  • Diuretics ('water' tablets)
  • ACE inhibitors (Angiotensin Converting Enzyme inhibitors)
  • ARBs (Angiotensin II receptor blockers)
  • Beta blockers
  • Anti–arrhythmics
  • Opiates
  • Antiplatelets
  • Anticoagulants
  • Statins

Keeping stable

  • In heart failure, the fine-tuning, or balance, of taking different drugs is often necessary to achieve the best possible function of the heart and relieve symptoms. Often a small adjustment can make all the difference.
  • Some people, when they start to feel the benefit from their drug treatment, think they don't need the drugs anymore when in fact it is the drugs that have stabilised their condition.

Worsening symptoms of heart failure

Sometimes your condition can suddenly deteriorate, without any apparent cause, to such an extent that admission to hospital is vital and emergency treatment is needed.

This is what you are trying to avoid by reporting any changes or deterioration in symptoms to your nurse or doctor. Report any changes in your symptoms to your nurse or doctor e.g.

  • Increased puffiness / swelling in your ankles or tummy
  • Increased weight
  • Increased breathlessness
  • New palpitations

Sometimes making small changes to what drugs you take, or what dose, can help avoid an acute attack and possible hospital admission.

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If you don't respond well to treatment

Heart failure is a chronic condition and episodes of worsening symptoms may not always respond well to treatment. Consideration of other options may be discussed, such as a heart transplant or use of devices such pacemakers or defibrillators.

hrt02-sec01-pg01-sub03 relaxDeath & dying

Some people may die of their heart failure. Sometimes people may die suddenly without any warning; this is very difficult to predict or prepare for.

It may be that the degree of heart failure advances to the point where worsening symptoms no longer respond to conventional treatment, complications arise and recurrent hospital admissions are unavoidable. In this situation your doctor or heart failure nurse may consider a referral to the palliative care team for further specialist advice. This would be discussed with you and your family.

Palliative Care Services are generally known for caring for patients with cancer but they also provide support for other conditions such as heart failure. Their expertise will ensure you are getting the best possible care.

For more information about all aspects of palliative care see NHS inform's Palliative Care Zone.

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