Pharmacologic therapy for patients with chronic heart failure and reduced systolic function: review of trials and practical considerations

Am J Cardiol. 2003 May 8;91(9A):18F-40F. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9149(02)03336-2.


Heart failure (HF) is a complex clinical syndrome resulting from any structural or functional cardiac disorder impairing the ability of the ventricles to fill with or eject blood. The approach to pharmacologic treatment has become a combined preventive and symptomatic management strategy. Ideally, treatment should be initiated in patients at risk, preventing disease progression. In patients who have progressed to symptomatic left ventricular dysfunction, certain therapies have been demonstrated to improve survival, decrease hospitalizations, and reduce symptoms. The mainstay therapies are angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and beta-blockers (bisoprolol, carvedilol, and metoprolol XL/CR), with diuretics to control fluid balance. In patients who cannot tolerate ACE inhibitors because of angioedema or severe cough, valsartan can be substituted. Valsartan should not be added in patients already taking an ACE inhibitor and a beta-blocker. Spironolactone is recommended in patients who have New York Heart Association (NYHA) class III to IV symptoms despite maximal therapies with ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, diuretics, and digoxin. Low-dose digoxin, yielding a serum concentration <1 ng/mL can be added to improve symptoms and, possibly, mortality. The combination of hydralazine and isosorbide dinitrate might be useful in patients (especially in African Americans) who cannot tolerate ACE inhibitors or valsartan because of hypotension or renal dysfunction. Calcium antagonists, with the exception of amlodipine, oral or intravenous inotropes, and vasodilators, should be avoided in HF with reduced systolic function. Amiodarone should be used only if patients have a history of sudden death, or a history of ventricular fibrillation or sustained ventricular tachycardia, and should be used in conjunction with an implantable defibrillator [corrected]. Finally, anticoagulation is recommended only in patients who have concomitant atrial fibrillation or a previous history of cerebral or systemic emboli.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Cardiac Output, Low / drug therapy*
  • Cardiotonic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Diuretics / therapeutic use
  • Heart Failure / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hydralazine / therapeutic use
  • Isosorbide Dinitrate / therapeutic use
  • Systole
  • Vasodilator Agents / therapeutic use


  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Cardiotonic Agents
  • Diuretics
  • Vasodilator Agents
  • Hydralazine
  • Isosorbide Dinitrate