Common medications for heart failure
A guide to the types of medication commonly used for treating heart failure.
As well as watching your fluid and salt intake, and lifestyle changes such as exercising and quitting smoking, you may need to take several different medications to help you manage your heart failure.
Here is some general information about the different types of medications commonly prescribed for heart failure.
Heart failure medications
Some medications will help treat the heart problems that are causing your heart failure, such as high blood pressure and coronary heart disease, and to protect against heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure. Other heart failure medications help to treat symptoms such as fluid retention.
You may not need all these medications as your doctor will create a personalised medication plan specifically tailored to your needs. It may take a little while to get your medication plan right as your doctor will often try different medications and doses to work out the best combination for you.
ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors. These lower blood pressure by helping blood vessels relax and widen, which also helps to reduce the strain on your heart. People with heart failure are recommended to take ACE inhibitors unless they can't tolerate them.
Angiotensin II receptor blockers (or ‘sartans’). These are similar to ACE inhibitors. They are sometimes used to replace ACE inhibitors for people who develop the side effect of a dry, tickly cough while taking ACE inhibitors.
Anticoagulants (blood thinners). These help prevent or slow blood clotting and are generally used to help treat heart failure for people who have a problem such as an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation).
Beta-blockers. These help reduce strain on your heart by relaxing the heart muscle, slowing your heart rate, and lowering blood pressure. They help most people with mild-to-moderate heart failure, though they may not be suitable for people with asthma.
Digoxin. This helps the heart pump more efficiently and regularly. It can be helpful for some people who have an irregular heartbeat, and those who aren’t responding well to other medications.
Diuretics (fluid medications). These help your body to remove excess fluid, and also helps lower blood pressure.
Nitrates. These lessen the workload of the heart by reducing blood pressure.
Important information about taking medications for heart failure
It’s important to be patient and stick to your medication plan. It may help to understand why you need to take your medicines, the dose you need and any common side effects. So if you’re unsure about any of your medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist and make notes so you can refer to it later.
For most of the medications used to treat heart failure you’ll need to have regular blood tests to check if your levels of the medication or certain minerals such as potassium are in the right range.
If you think you’re experiencing side effects to any medication you’re taking, let your doctor or pharmacist know. Also tell them about any other medications you’re taking including vitamins, natural remedies, and over-the-counter medications.
You may also have to be careful about mixing the medications you’re on with alcohol. If it turns out you can’t take a particular medication because of side effects or an interaction with another medication or alcohol, ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain why and write it down.
You may also have to be careful about mixing the medications you’re on with alcohol.
If you’re having trouble remembering which medications you need to take when and at what doses, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about things like Webster packs that could help you get it right.
Also, why not download MedAdvisor? It’s a free app that helps you manage the medicines you’re taking by connecting you through your smartphone, tablet or PC, to your prescription records at a MedAdvisor network pharmacy of your choice in Australia. You’ll have your prescription history, dosage instructions and medicine details and health alerts at your fingertips anywhere, anytime.