Health A-Z

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The treatment of heart failure focuses on lessening symptoms, decreasing hospitalizations and improving life expectancy. To accomplish these goals, your doctor will advise a low-salt diet and medication. Medications may include:

  • A diuretic (water pill) to remove excess body fluid by increasing urine output

  • An angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor or angiotensin receptor blocker to expand blood vessels and improve forward blood flow

  • A beta-blocker to help prolong the life of muscle cells

  • Digoxin (Lanoxin) to strengthen the heart's contractions

  • A potassium sparing diuretic, such as spironolactone (sold as a generic), which has been shown to help people live longer when taken in low doses

Sometimes, anticoagulants (blood thinners) also are prescribed to prevent blood clots, particularly if the patient requires a long period of bed rest.

Your doctor also will address the underlying cause of your heart failure. Heart failure related to coronary artery disease may require additional medications, angioplasty or surgery. When heart failure is caused by a poorly functioning hart valve, your doctor may advise surgical repair and valve replacement. For some people with heart failure, losing weight or stopping all alcohol use can dramatically improve symptoms. Your doctor will tell you how much exercise is appropriate. Balancing physical activity with rest is important in more advanced stages of heart failure.

When medications and self-treatment are no longer helpful, a heart transplant may be considered. This treatment option is limited by a shortage of donor hearts and usually is reserved for patients younger than 65.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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