Treatment of heart failure is aimed at relieving your symptoms, making your heart stronger and improving your quality of life.
You can improve your symptoms by making various changes to your lifestyle, including:
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- cutting down on salt
- stopping smoking
- taking regular exercise
- drinking alcohol in moderation or not at all if alcohol has caused your heart failure
- maintaining a healthy weight
- monitoring how much fluid you drink and weighing yourself daily
- managing stress
- having the annual flu vaccine
If you need help with any of these lifestyle changes, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to arrange for you to attend a rehabilitation programme and offer information and support.
There is a range of medicines available that can be used to relieve the symptoms of heart failure and help you live longer. Different medicines treat different symptoms, so you may be given more than one medicine. It’s important you take each one correctly so that each can do its job properly.
Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
ACE inhibitors widen your blood vessels making it easier for your heart to pump blood around the body. ACE inhibitors are given to most people with heart failure. Side-effects may include a dry cough and low blood pressure, which may make you feel dizzy. If you get a cough when taking ACE inhibitors, see your doctor.
Angiotensin II receptor blockers
Angiotensin II receptor blockers (also called angiotensin receptor antagonists) work in a similar way to ACE inhibitors. These medicines lower your blood pressure and stop your symptoms from getting worse. You may be given these if you can't take ACE inhibitors because of the side-effects.
There are many different types of >beta-blocker but only certain ones are used to treat heart failure. Beta-blockers cause the arteries to widen and they slow down the heart rate. This helps to lower your blood pressure and the amount of work your heart does. If you have asthma or other heart problems, you may not be given beta-blockers. Side-effects can include tiredness, cold hands and feet, disrupted sleep and impotence in men.
Diuretics can help to reduce swollen feet and ankles, and prevent fluid build-up on the lungs, allowing you to be more active and breathe more easily. Diuretics cause your body to get rid of excess fluid by making you urinate more often. Your heart won't have to work as hard if there's less fluid to pump around the body. If you have gout, diuretics can make it worse. They can also lower your blood pressure, which may make you feel dizzy.
Spironolactone or eplerenone are two types of common aldosterone antagonists. They work in a similar way to diuretics by affecting the balance of water and salts going into your urine. These medicines can cause sickness and may affect how well your kidneys work. Your doctor may want to do regular blood tests to check your kidney function if you take this medicine.
Digoxin helps if you have a rapid or irregular heart beat by slowing down your heart rate. Side-effects may include sickness and diarrhoea. If you get these side-effects, see your doctor.
Anticoagulants, also known as blood thinners, reduce how well your blood can clot. They do not actually thin the blood. Anticoagulants such as warfarin are used to help prevent harmful blood clots from forming. You're more likely to get blood clots if you have heart failure because your heart's pumping action is weaker causing the blood to pool in the body. Blood clots can block narrow blood vessels and stop blood getting to parts of your body. If blood can't get to your brain, this can cause a stroke. Your doctor will consider your risk of having a stroke before prescribing you anticoagulants.
Antiplatelets, such as aspirin, stops blood clots from forming by preventing blood platelets sticking together. Aspirin is not usually taken with warfarin. Side-effects may include sickness and stomach pain.