Inotrope use is one of the most controversial topics in the management of heart failure. While the heart failure community utilizes them and recognizes the state of inotrope dependency, retrospective analyses and registry data have overwhelmingly suggested high mortality, which is logically to be expected given the advanced disease states of those requiring their use. Currently, there is a relative paucity of randomized control trials due to the ethical dilemma of creating control groups by withholding inotropes from patients who require them. Nonetheless, results of such trials have been mixed. Many were also performed with agents no longer in use, on patients without an indication for inotropes, or at a time before automatic cardio-defibrillators were recommended for primary prevention. Thus, their results may not be generalizable to current clinical practice. In this review, we discuss current indications for inotrope use, specifically dobutamine and milrinone, depicting their mechanisms of action, delineating their patterns of use in clinical practice, defining the state of inotrope dependency, and ultimately examining the literature to ascertain whether evidence is sufficient to support the current view that these agents increase mortality in patients with heart failure. Our conclusion is that the evidence is insufficient to link inotropes and increased mortality in low output heart failure.
Keywords: dobutamine; heart failure; inotropes; milrinone.