Beta Blockers for the Treatment of Congestive Heart Failure

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About Decompensated Congestive Heart Failure

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart is incapable of working effectively enough to supply the body with sufficient blood flow. This condition can have many causes, including heart attack, chronic high blood pressure, and damage or malformation of the heart or a heart valve. If the underlying problem causing the heart failure does not respond to treatment, then symptoms of heart failure can worsen over time. Possible symptoms include severe shortness of breath, swelling of the ankles, coughing, and an inability to exercise.

Acute decompensated congestive heart failure is a condition in which chronic heart failure rapidly becomes worse. This is referred to as decompensating, which simply refers to the fact that the previously working cardiovascular system has suddenly begun to fail. A “compensated” cardiovascular system means that even though heart disease is present the body has been able to overcome the problems and continue to function. Decompensation occurs when the body is no longer able to compensate for the physical problems caused by heart failure.

Congestive heart failure is a major public health issue, and a leading cause of hospitalization in people over the age of 65. People who are hospitalized with this condition also have a very high rate of readmission within six months of initial hospital treatment.

What are Beta Blockers?

Beta blockers are a type of medication most often used to treat cardiac conditions such as arrhythmia and high blood pressure. They are also used as a protective post-heart attack treatment.

Beta blockers work by blocking the activity of a hormone called epinephrine, or adrenalin. The medication causes a reduction in heart rate, and a reduction in the force of heartbeats. Both of these measures help reduce blood pressure. In addition, beta blockers help widen blood vessels, which helps improve freedom of movement of blood around the body.

In short, beta blockers help with heart function because they make it easier for the heart to do its job.

Beta Blockers in Decompensated CHF Treatment

Beta blockers are often part of the treatment regime for someone who is hospitalized after a heart attack, or for treatment of acute decompensated congestive heart failure. Beta blockers in decompensated CHF treatment help protect the heart by

Many clinical trials have demonstrated that beta blockers can improve outcomes and survivability for patients hospitalized as a result of cardiac problems. In the treatment of patients with heart failure, beta blockers have been noted to improve survival rate by as much as 35%. In addition to their utility in the treatment of CHF, beta blockers are also often used to treat cardiac problems due to vascular disease, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.


Gary M Satou, MD, FASE and Nancy J Halnon, MD for eMedicine: Congestive Heart Failure

Gregg C. Fonarow, ADHERE® Scientific Advisory Committee, and Eliot Corday. Overview of Acutely Decompensated Congestive Heart Failure (ADHF): A Report from the ADHERE Registry. Volume 9, Number 3 / January, 2005.

UCLA Heart Failure Clinical Guidelines: In-Hospital Initiation of Beta Blocker Therapy for Heart Failure (PDF).