Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Heart Failure Medication

        Health | Medications

Medications can help alleviate the symptoms of heart failure, but they can't cure it.
Medications can help alleviate the symptoms of heart failure, but they can't cure it.
© istockphoto/erichood

Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which a damaged heart fails to beat as well as a normal heart. As a result, the body's cells are not able to get the blood and oxygen they need to function properly. Among people over 65 years of age who are admitted to the hospital, heart failure is the most common diagnosis. And because the American population is aging, the number of heart failure diagnoses is increasing every year.

Symptoms associated with heart failure include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Unusual fatigue during exertion
  • Shortness of breath during mild exercise
  • Buildup of fluid in various parts of the body
  • Inability to withstand cold
  • Attacks of shortness of breath and coughing when lying in bed that are relieved only by sitting or standing

As the heart becomes unable to effectively pump out the blood that enters its chambers, fluids tend to build up in the body, a condition called fluid overload that's responsible for many of these symptoms. Improving heart function along with reducing fluid overload can dramatically improve these symptoms. Let's take a look at the kinds of drugs that are most commonly used to treat heart failure, and then see how they're used.