Congestive Heart Failure Treatments Prescription Medication

The drugs prescribed for congestive heart failure include the following general categories: vasodilators, diuretics, inotropic drugs, and beta blockers. Each category of prescription drug performs a specific function, intended to correct problems with the heart or to improve symptoms caused by congestive heart failure.


Vasodilators are prescription drugs whose job is to reduce the workload of the heart. They include the following:

  • ACE Inhibitors are the first-line treatment for CHF. Most patients experience an improvement in symptoms and, often, an improved prognosis. ACE inhibitors work by reducing the blood pressure and relaxing blood vessels, allowing the heart to pump against decreased resistance.
  • Nitrates are prescription drugs that release nitric oxide, a chemical that help veins relax, thereby decreasing resistance to the heart’s action.
  • Hydralazine dilates the arteries and, used in combination with nitrates, can be a reasonable alternative when ACE inhibitors are not advised (“contraindicated”).


The job of prescription diuretics is well known: remove excess fluid from the body. The excess fluid is the result of blood backing up when the heart is unable to keep up with pumping. Diuretics help to reduce the fluid so that blood pressure is also decreased. This helps to relieve the heart’s workload.

Typical prescription diuretics include loopdiuretics, thiazides and spironolactone.

Inotropic Drugs

Inotropic drugs enhance the strength of the heart’s contractions by increasing the calcium available to the heart muscle, which allows it to work more effectively. Digitalis is the typical inotropic drug prescribed.

Phosphodiesterase inhibitors work in a similar fashion, providing more calcium to the heart muscle and strengthening contractions.

Beta Blockers

Data from clinical trials show that, in some patients, beta blockers have been effective in reducing hospital visits and mortality, and increasing heart function.

The use of beta blockers to treat congestive heart failure is controversial. Administering beta blockers may do more harm than good if the patient’s congestive heart failure is too advanced. Since their use is not as straightforward as with other drugs, some physicians are reluctant to use beta blockers at all and prefer to rely on other prescription drugs.