Heart Failure Medication Guidelines

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on May 16, 2023
3 min read

When it comes to heart failure, medications are intended to improve symptoms. Unfortunately, they cannot cure heart failure. Your doctor will work with you to find the best medications to relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Whatever the treatment protocol prescribed to you, it is a good idea to keep the following guidelines in mind when you're taking heart failure medication.

  • Know the names of your medications and how they work. Know the generic and brand names, dosages, and side effects of your medications. Always keep a list of your medications with you.
  • Take your medications as scheduled, at the same time every day. Do not stop taking or change your medications unless you first talk with your doctor. Even if you feel good, continue to take your medications. Stopping your medications suddenly can make your condition worse.
  • Have a routine for taking your medications. Get a pillbox that is marked with the days of the week. Fill the pillbox at the beginning of each week to make it easier for you to remember.
  • Keep a medicine calendar and note every time you take a dose. Your prescription label tells you how much to take at each dose, but your doctor may change your dosage periodically, depending on your response to the medication. On your medication calendar, you can list any changes in your medication doses as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Do not decrease your medication dosage to save money. You must take the full amount to get the full benefits. Talk with your doctor about ways you can reduce the costs of your medications.
  • Do not take any over-the-counter drugs or herbal therapies unless you ask your doctor first. Some drugs such as antacids, salt substitutes, antihistamines (including Benadryl and Dimetapp), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents, called NSAIDS for short (such as Advil, Motrin, and Indocin), can worsen heart failure symptoms.
  • If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember. However, if it is almost time for your next dose, ask your doctor about skipping versus making up the dose you missed.
  • Regularly fill your prescriptions. Do not wait until you are completely out of the drug before refilling your prescriptions. If you have trouble getting to the pharmacy, have financial concerns, or have other problems that make it difficult for you to get your medications, let your doctor know. A social worker is available to help you.
  • When traveling, keep drugs with you so you can take them as scheduled. On longer trips, take an extra week's supply of medications and copies of your prescriptions, in case you need to get a refill.
  • Before having surgery with a general anesthetic, including dental surgery, tell the doctor or dentist in charge what heart conditions you have and what heart failure drugs you are taking. An antibiotic may need to be prescribed prior to your surgical or dental procedure.
  • Some drugs may alter your heart rate, so taking your pulse is very important.
  • Drugs that relax constricted blood vessels may cause dizziness. If you experience dizziness when standing or getting out of bed, sit or lie down for a few minutes. Then get up more slowly.
  • ACE inhibitors may increase cough. Call your doctor if the coughing persists or prevents you from sleeping at night.
  • Diuretics ("water pills") increase your urine output. If you take a single dose of diuretic each day, take it in the morning. If you are taking two diuretic doses each day, take the second dose in the late afternoon so you can sleep through the night without having to wake to go to the bathroom.
  • Diuretics can cause dehydration (excessive loss of water). Signs of dehydration are dizziness; extreme thirst; dryness of the mouth; less urine output; dark-colored urine; or constipation. If these symptoms occur, do not assume you need more fluids. Call your doctor.