Managing Medications for Heart Failure
Even more than with most other conditions, medications play a major role in treating heart failure and controlling the symptoms that interfere with quality of life. Unfortunately, many people with heart failure -- also called congestive heart failure -- are undertreated and don't receive all the medications that could make them feel better.
As a caregiver, managing your loved one's medications to make sure they're working properly -- along with monitoring symptoms and side effects -- is one of the most important things you can do. Here's how:
Understand the function and purpose of all medications.
The medications the doctor prescribes for heart failure are likely to be different based on whether the patient suffers from systolic or preserved systolic heart failure. Knowing the difference between the two is important in managing care. In cases of systolic heart failure -- the most common type -- medications have two functions: to control symptoms in the short term and to strengthen the heart and reverse the damage (known as reverse remodeling) in the long term. In cases of preserved systolic heart failure, the main purpose of the medication regimen is to control blood pressure. There are more medications available for systolic heart failure than for preserved systolic heart failure.
The medications that have immediate, short-term benefits are easy for most patients to understand and comply with, whereas the ones with primarily long-term effects may be harder to understand. Make sure the doctor clearly explains what each medication does and what you can expect, both in the immediate future and over time. Ask the doctor how you'll know whether each medication is working. The doctor may explain that you won't know the success of a certain medication until certain tests are performed; if so, ask what the tests are and when they'll be scheduled.
Keep track of medications.
Most people with heart failure need to take several medications, which can make keeping track of them a challenge, especially if the person you're caring for is on medications for other conditions. Watching for side effects and medication interactions will also be an important task. Making a medicine chart can make it easier to keep track of all medications prescribed, the time of day they should be taken, and any other factors (such as if a medication needs to be taken with a meal).
Bring all medications to each doctor visit in their original bottles. Having the medications present with their labels is much more helpful than bringing a list.