A 50-year-old man is evaluated during a routine follow-up office visit for heart failure, which was diagnosed 1 year ago. A stress test at the time of diagnosis was negative for ischemia. At his most recent evaluation 4 months ago, an echocardiogram showed left ventricular enlargement and hypertrophy, a left ventricular ejection fraction of 40%, and no significant valvular disease. An electrocardiogram was unchanged, showing left ventricular hypertrophy but no evidence of previous myocardial infarction. The patient is currently asymptomatic, and his medications are hydrochlorothiazide and lisinopril.
On physical examination, heart rate is 85/min and blood pressure is 135/85 mm Hg. There is no jugular venous distention or peripheral edema. The lungs are clear. There is a soft S4 but no murmur.
Which of the following medications should be added to the patient's regimen?
* An angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor and a β-blocker are indicated in all patients with systolic heart failure, including asymptomatic patients with low ejection fractions.
* Spironolactone and digoxin are not indicated in patients with asymptomatic systolic heart failure.
Answer and Critique (Correct Answer = A)
Treatment with an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor and a β-blocker is indicated for all patients with any degree of systolic heart failure, including this asymptomatic patient with a low ejection fraction, because treatment with both agents has been shown to reduce morbidity and mortality.
Losartan, an angiotensin-receptor blocker (ARB), is an acceptable alternative in a patient who cannot tolerate an ACE inhibitor, but there is no benefit to adding an ARB to an ACE inhibitor. Calcium-channel blockers are indicated in patients with heart failure who have hypertension or angina that is not adequately controlled with an ACE inhibitor or β-blocker. First-generation calcium-channel blockers, such as nifedipine, diltiazem, and verapamil, cause a reactive increase in sympathetic activity in response to peripheral vasodilatation and negative inotropic effects, whereas second-generation calcium-channel blockers, such as amlodipine, are more vasoselective, less cardiodepressant, and do not appear to have a deleterious effect on outcome in patients with heart failure. Spironolactone and digoxin are not indicated for patients with asymptomatic systolic heart failure. Spironolactone reduces mortality in patients with severe symptomatic heart failure (New York Heart Association class III or IV) and a left ventricular ejection fraction ≤35%. Digoxin alleviates symptoms and reduces hospitalizations related to heart failure, but has not been shown to reduce mortality.
1. O’Connor CM. The new heart failure guidelines: strategies for implementation. Am Heart J. 2007;153:2-5. [PMID: 17394896]
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