Nitrates help reduce the load on the heart in acute heart failure. Nitrate preparations include nitroglycerin (Nitrostat, Nitro-Dur, Minitran), isosorbide dinitrate (Dilatrate-SR, Isordil Titradose), and isosorbide mononitrate (Monoket). Other drugs that may be prescribed for heart failure include aminophylline and theophylline, hydralazine and prazosin. Three drugs from a class called the beta-blockers can now be prescribed for heart failure in certain circumstances. These are bisoprolol (Zebeta), carvedilol (Coreg) and nebivolol (Bystolic).

Candesartan (Atacand), losartan (Cozaar) and valsartan (Diovan) belong to another class of drugs, known as angiotensin II antagonists, that can also be used to treat some people with heart failure. In addition, eplerenone (Inspra), a type of drug known as an aldosterone antagonist, may be used together with standard therapy in some people with heart failure. Your doctor will usually prescribe a combination of two or more drugs. It is important that high blood pressure is controlled.

Self-help measures
There are steps you can take to help treat your heart failure (see below), but seek advice from your doctor. Regular exercise is beneficial in nearly all cases, but check with your doctor first. If you smoke, try to stop. Smoking increases the heart’s need for oxygen and causes constriction of the blood vessels. This means that your heart will have to work harder to pump the blood around your body.

  • If you smoke, try to stop.
  • Try to avoid becoming overweight as this can add to the strain on the heart, especially during exercise.
  • Eat sensibly, avoiding high-fat foods. Don’t add salt to your cooking or to your food at the table.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink. For women, the recommended consumption is no more than 14 units per week (not more than 2 to 3 units per day); for men the recommended consumption is no more than 21 units per week (not more than 3 to 4 units per day). One unit is equivalent to 1/2 pint of average strength beer (approximately 250mL), 1 glass of wine (125mL) or 1 standard pub measure of spirits (25mL).
  • Ask your doctor’s advice about exercise. In most cases, regular gentle exercise, such as walking will be encouraged.
  • Make sure you take your medication as prescribed. It will help stabilize your heart failure and improve your symptoms.

Further information
American Heart Association: www.heart.org

Last Reviewed: May 2013