Management of heart failure. I. Pharmacologic treatment

JAMA. 1994 Nov 2;272(17):1361-6.


Objective: This review of the pharmacologic treatment of heart failure due to left ventricular systolic dysfunction summarizes the recommendations of the expert panel for the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research Heart Failure Guideline. It provides specific advice to help guide practitioners through clinical decision making.

Data sources: Data were obtained from English-language studies and referenced in MEDLINE or EMBASE between 1966 and 1993. We used the search terms heart failure, congestive; congestive heart failure; heart failure; cardiac failure; and dilated cardiomyopathy in conjunction with terms for the specific treatments. Where data were lacking, we relied on opinions of panel members and peer reviewers.

Study selection: Only large prospective trials were used to estimate treatment efficacy. Smaller trials, case series, and case reports were reviewed for the incidence of adverse effects.

Data extraction and synthesis: Randomized clinical trials were reviewed for inclusion and exclusion criteria, patient outcomes, adverse effects, and eight categories of study quality using a defined list of study flaws.

Conclusion: Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors should be given to all patients unless specific contraindications exist. Diuretics should be used judiciously early in treatment to prevent excessive diuresis that could prevent titration of ACE inhibitors to target doses. Digoxin has not been shown to affect the natural history of heart failure and should be reserved for patients who remain symptomatic after treatment with ACE inhibitors and diuretics. Isosorbide dinitrate and hydralazine hydrochloride should be tried in patients who cannot tolerate ACE inhibitors or who have refractory symptoms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Digoxin / therapeutic use
  • Diuretics / therapeutic use
  • Heart Failure / drug therapy*
  • Heart Failure / etiology
  • Humans
  • Hydralazine / therapeutic use
  • Isosorbide Dinitrate / therapeutic use
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • United States
  • United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Left / drug therapy*
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Left / physiopathology


  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Diuretics
  • Hydralazine
  • Digoxin
  • Isosorbide Dinitrate