Patients With Newly Diagnosed Heart Failure

Patients With Newly Diagnosed Heart Failure

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A physical examination can give clues to the underlying cause of heart failure.

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Being diagnosed with heart failure can be quite a shock. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 5 million people in the U.S. have heart failure. Heart failure is diagnosed when the heart's ability to pump blood to the body becomes impaired. Coronary artery disease, genetic disorders, certain medications and alcohol abuse are among the potential causes of heart failure. When a person is newly diagnosed with heart failure, a thorough medical evaluation can help doctors determine an effective treatment plan.


People newly diagnosed with heart failure are asked detailed questions about their medical history to help identify the cause. A history of uncontrolled high blood pressure or a prior heart attack both increase the risk of heart failure. Exposure to certain types of chemotherapy and substance or alcohol abuse are heart failure risks as well.

Blood tests are performed to check for medical conditions, including thyroid disease and HIV, which can also cause heart failure. In addition to an echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart, doctors may recommend other tests like a cardiac catheterization to look for blockages in the arteries that bring blood to the heart. All of this testing can help pinpoint any potentially reversible causes of heart failure.


Regardless of the cause of heart failure, a number of medications have been shown to improve the prognosis. According to the current American College of Cardiology guidelines, most people who have symptoms due to heart failure should be treated with a type of medication known as an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor, or ACEI, and another called a beta blocker.

Commonly used ACEIs include lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril) and enalapril (Vasotec). Extended-release metoprolol (Toprol XL) and carvedilol (Coreg, Coreg CR) are beta blockers used to treat heart failure. Diuretic medications, also known as water pills, may also be prescribed. Frequently used examples include furosemide (Lasix) and spironolactone (Aldactone).

Other Therapies

Depending on the underlying cause of heart failure and the presence of other medical conditions, additional therapies may be used to treat newly diagnosed heart failure. An implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, may be recommended for people at risk for dangerous heart rhythms. In some cases, people with newly diagnosed heart failure already have severe symptoms despite a recent diagnosis. Powerful medications, called inotropes, may be required to stabilize symptoms in these situations.


Though heart failure is a serious medical condition, it is treatable. Taking medications as prescribed, doing daily physical exercise as tolerated and following a heart-healthy eating plan recommended by your doctor are essential for managing heart failure symptoms. Quitting bad habits -- including smoking, recreational drug use and heavy drinking -- can also dramatically improve prognosis. Avoiding over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve), which can trigger heart failure symptoms is also important.

If you are considering taking any vitamins, supplements or herbal remedies, be sure to discuss this with your doctor first as these can interfere with heart failure medications.

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