Heart Failure and Heart Pump Medication

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on November 18, 2022
2 min read

Heart pump medication, also called inotropic therapy, makes an injured or weakened heart pump harder. It's used to make the heart muscle's contractions stronger. It may also speed the heart's rhythm.

It’s used in end-stage heart failure to help relieve and control symptoms so you can perform your daily activities better. These medications are only used when other drugs don’t control heart failure symptoms anymore.

Heart pump drugs are sometimes given in the short term to people waiting for a heart transplant. The risk of death rises if they’re taken long term.

Heart pump medications include:

  • Dobutamine (Dobutrex)
  • Milrinone (Primacor)


The first time you get them will be in a hospital where you can be closely watched.

Dobutamine and milrinone are IV medications given through an infusion pump into your vein. This helps make sure the dose is accurate. You might get them continuously or periodically over 6 to 72 hours, one or more times per week.

Even if you feel well, don’t stop taking this medicine without asking your doctor. If you are discharged from the hospital with an inotropic medication, a home health nurse will give you specific directions on how to care for your intravenous site, catheter, and infusion pump.

Tell your doctor or nurse right away the first time any of these side effects happen:

  • Headache
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Faintness, dizziness, or lightheadedness
  • Mild leg cramps or tingling sensation

If any of the following side effects happen, stop the infusion and call your doctor right away:

  • Irregular, fast heartbeat (more than 120 beats per minute)
  • Pain or swelling at your infusion site
  • Fever of 101 F or higher
  • Pump malfunction (then call the pharmacy immediately for a replacement)

Yes. While taking heart pump medication, make sure you:

  • Carefully follow the low-sodium diet and daily exercise program advised by your doctor.
  • Avoid alcohol, which increases the side effects of this drug.

Keep all appointments so your doctor can see how well the medicine is working.

Always have enough infusion bags of your medication. Check your supply before vacations, holidays, or other occasions when you may not be able to get it.

Never get other intravenous medications through the same intravenous line.

Take precautions to prevent infection while you are taking this drug. Your doctor will let you know what you need to do.