Statement warns of drugs causing or exacerbating heart failure



Many commonly used prescription drugs, many OTC agents, and also several complimentary or alternative medications, can either trigger heart failure or exacerbate the disease in patients with existing heart failure according to a Scientific Statement written by a committee of the American Heart Association and released on July 11.

This first-ever authoritative U.S. overview of what is known about drugs that can affect heart failure was compiled to address an important practice issue for the large and growing number of U.S. patients with heart failure, estimated to be nearly 6 million Americans, and “provide some guidance to health care providers in how to minimize polypharmacy, improve medication safety, as well as identify the medications that could exacerbate or cause heart failure,” said Robert L. Page II, PharmD, chair of the committee and a professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of Colorado at Denver, Aurora.

Dr. Robert L. Page II

Dr. Robert L. Page II

Although the comprehensive statement lists 88 distinct prescription drugs or drug classes as agents that pose major or moderate threats for causing or worsening heart failure, “from the American public’s perspective, importance should be placed on educating patients regarding the impact that OTC medications can have on their heart failure,” Dr. Page said in an interview. “For example, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen can cause sodium and water retention and antagonize the effects of evidence-based heart failure pharmacotherapies. Additionally, OTC medications like pseudoephedrine, which many cough and cold products contain, can increase blood pressure and afterload,” he noted. The risks these drugs pose becomes even greater when they are taken at higher doses.


The statement cites already existing guidance from the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association that for patients with existing heart failure, use of NSAIDs should either be avoided or withdrawn when possible. The statement advises educating patients to communicate with their health care provider before taking any OTC medication or complimentary or alternative medication, avoid these agents when their efficacy and safety is uncertain, and evaluate the labels of these products for their sodium content (although the sodium content from inactive ingredients may be difficult to find in labeling).

“Currently, we teach patients to read food labels for sodium content, but we also need to educate patients on how to read OTC medication labels for both ingredients and sodium content. Many OTC antacids may have a large sodium load,” Dr. Page said. The statement includes a list of 14 prescription drugs and also highlights several OTC formulations that have an especially high sodium content.


Among the many prescription drugs listed, one notable entry is for the oral hypoglycemic agent metformin that today is among the most widely used drugs for treating type 2 diabetes and is especially relevant for heart failure patients because, as the statement notes, 38% also have diabetes. The statement details the long history of metformin and heart failure, noting that until a decade ago, the drug had a contraindication for patients with heart failure, that metformin’s label still carries a black box warning for cautious use in heart failure patients, and that earlier in 2016, the Food and Drug Administration cautioned that metformin should not be used in patients with an estimated glomerular filtration rate of less than 30 mL/minute per 1.73 m2. The statement also endorsed a recommendation from the American Diabetes Association that metformin not be used in patients with unstable heart failure or those hospitalized for heart failure.

Antihypertensives, biologics, and more

Other notable prescription drugs listed as potentially having a major impact on causing or worsening heart failure include the antihypertensive drugs diltiazem, verapamil, and moxonidine, the tumor necrosis factor–inhibitors that are widely used to treat rheumatologic and gastroenterologic diseases, the antipsychotic clozapine, and a long list of anticancer medications, including several anthracyclines and many types of newer biologic agents.

The statement also lists several specific recommendations to health care providers for improving oversight of the drugs taken by patients with heart failure or those at risk for heart failure. These include a comprehensive medication review during each clinical encounter. The statement also suggests a “medication flow sheet” for each patient that contains the basic information regarding the regimen for each medication taken by a patient: the brand and generic name, the purpose of the medication, and its dosage. “These medication flow sheets should be used by patients as a tool to enhance safety and adherence, and they should show their flow sheets at each provider visit,” Dr. Page said.


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