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Heart Failure: Taking Medicines Properly

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Medicines do not cure heart failure. But they can make you feel better, help your heart work better, and help you live longer.

  • Take a list of your medicines or bring your medicines with you when you visit your doctor. Make sure to include any nonprescription medicines and natural supplements that you take. Talk about any side effects you are having or need to watch for.
  • Make your medicine schedule as simple as possible. Plan times to take your medicines when you are doing other things, like eating a meal or getting ready for bed. This will make it easier for you to remember to take your medicines.
  • Talk with your doctor if you are having problems with when to take your medicine. Your doctor may be able to change your medicines or the times you take them.
  • Talk with your doctor if you have any changes in your health that might affect your heart failure, such as weight gain, side effects of medicines, or another health problem.
  • Use tools like daily or weekly pill boxes to make taking your medicines simpler.

Medicines don't cure heart failure. But they can relieve some symptoms and improve how well your heart works. They also can slow the rate at which your heart failure gets worse, and they can reduce your risk of dying early.

Several kinds of medicines may be used to treat heart failure:

  • Some medicines help your heart pump better. This improves blood flow and helps more oxygen get to your heart and body.
  • Some relax your blood vessels so that your heart doesn't have to pump so hard.
  • Some may help your body get rid of too much fluid, which builds up because of heart failure.
  • Others control health problems (such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol) that may have caused your heart failure or can make it worse.

It may take some time to find the right medicines and know when to take them to best manage your heart failure. When you have the medicines that work best for you, be sure to take them exactly as prescribed.

Test Your Knowledge

Medicines can cure my heart failure.


Medicines work in a delicate balance with each other and with your body. Changes in your medicine schedule or dosage can affect how well the medicines work and how you feel. If you do not take your medicines properly:

  • Your heart failure could get worse.
  • You could get sudden heart failure.
  • You could get sick enough that you have to go into the hospital.
  • You could have more heart damage.

Test Your Knowledge

Changes in the times that I take my medicines can affect how well they work.


Here's how you can get started on taking your medicines properly.

Make a medicine plan

Talk with your doctor about:

  1. What medicines you take. Find out what each medicine does. If you understand what you are taking, it may be easier to follow your schedule. Write down both the brand name and generic name for your medicines. Have your doctor check the list. You can use this list to make sure that the medicines you get from the drugstore are correct.
  2. Your medicine schedule. Be sure you understand how much of each medicine to take and when to take each one. Ask your doctor if you can make your pill schedule simpler. You may be able to substitute longer-acting medicines for shorter-acting ones. Longer-acting, once-a-day medicines are easier to remember to take.
  3. How to handle missed doses. Talk with your doctor about what you should do if you accidentally miss a dose of a medicine. Discuss what to do for each medicine, because it may be different for each one.
  4. Your medicine costs. Ask your doctor if you can take generic medicines that cost less than brand names. Compare prices between several drugstores, and think about buying your medicines by mail.
  5. Medicines to avoid. You may need to avoid certain medicines. Many nonprescription medicines, prescription medicines, and natural supplements can make symptoms of heart failure worse. Or they may react with your heart failure medicines. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about medicines that may make heart failure symptoms worse, and write down those that you should not take. Check with your doctor before you take any medicines on this list.
  6. Tests to monitor your medicine. You may have regular blood tests to monitor how the medicine is working in your body. Your doctor will likely let you know when you need to have the tests. Your doctor wants to be sure that your medicine isn't harming you and that you're getting the right dose.

Get organized

Taking medicines properly means taking the right dose of the right medicine at the right time.

  1. Make a list of all your medicines. Make a master list of all your medicinesClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?) and keep it up to date. At every visit with your doctor, review this list.
  2. Plan a daily schedule of medicines. Make a daily planner that has spaces for hourly entriesClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?). Post this schedule near your medicine cabinet. Take it along when you travel.
  3. Use a pillbox that holds a week's worth of pills. This may be most helpful if you are taking pills every other day.
  4. Post reminders. Get sticky notes and write reminders to take your medicines. Post them near clocks or on the bathroom mirror to keep you on schedule.
  5. Store medicines properly. Keeping medicines in a place that is too hot or too cold may keep them from working right. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how to store your medicines. Always keep them out of the reach of children.

Watch for side effects

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about what side effects to expect.
  • Be sure to tell your doctor right away if you have problems from your medicines.
  • Always check with your doctor before you take any other medicines, whether they are prescription or nonprescription. This includes any herbal or "natural" supplements.
  • Let your doctor know if you have any changes in your health that might affect your heart failure, such as weight gain or another health problem.

Test Your Knowledge

A medicine plan includes a list of all my medicines and their names, dosages, and schedules.


Now that you have read this information, you are ready to make a plan to help you take your medicines properly.

For more information on nonprescription medicines, see:

Click here to view an Actionset.Heart Failure: Avoiding Medicines That Make Symptoms Worse.

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to use a highlighter to mark areas or make notes in the margins of the pages where you have questions.

If you don't have a medicine plan already, schedule a time with your doctor to develop one.

If you would like more information on taking your medicines properly, the following resources are available:


American Heart Association (AHA)
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX 75231
Phone: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721)
Web Address:

Visit the American Heart Association (AHA) website for information on physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions. You can search for information on heart disease and stroke, share information with friends and family, and use tools to help you make heart-healthy goals and plans. Contact the AHA to find your nearest local or state AHA group. The AHA provides brochures and information about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and provide information and support.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
Phone: (301) 592-8573
Fax: (240) 629-3246
TDD: (240) 629-3255
Email: [email protected]
Web Address:

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing and treating:

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ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerRakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Specialist Medical ReviewerMargaret Hetherington, PHM, BsC - Pharmacy
Last RevisedApril 26, 2012

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