Medicines for acute heart failure

What they do

There are several drugs that are used to improve the short-term course of acute heart failure. They may be used during an episode of acute heart failure. They can help by making the heart pump more forcefully or by dilating (opening up) blood vessels and reducing the workload.

Acute heart failure is characterised by a rapid onset of symptoms, such as shortness of breath, requiring urgent attention.

Treatment should be administered at hospital and detailed information concerning such treatment is beyond the scope of this website. However, it’s important that patients with chronic heart failure seek immediate attention when symptoms progress rapidly in order to initiate appropriate therapy as soon as possible.

These drugs are usually given in an intensive care unit by continuous injection and patients are closely monitored.

Types of medication

  • Dobutamine
  • Dopamine
  • Dopexamine
  • Enoximone
  • Glyceryl trinitrate / nitroglycerin
    (Nitrocine®, Nitronal®)
  • Levosimendan
  • Nesiritide
  • Milrinone
  • Sodium nitroprusside
    (Nipride®, Nitropress®)

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ESC Guidelines for Heart Failure

What patients need to know

This guide for patients from the European Society of Cardiology aims to provide an overview of the latest evidence-based recommendations for the diagnosis and treatment of heart failure.

In particular, it should help patients to understand the:

  • main types of heart failure
  • medicines used to treat heart failure
  • devices that may be appropriate
  • importance of rehabilitation
  • management by a multidisciplinary team
  • importance of self-care in managing your own condition

Learn more


A series of 9 simple, captivating animations explaining heart failure and its treatment.

These narrated animations explain how a healthy heart works, what happens to it in heart failure and how various treatments work to improve your health.


In this section you can watch, listen or read interviews with other people with heart failure and their caregivers.


and share your own views and experiences with other patients, families and caregivers. is a European Society of Cardiology website

The website was developed under the direction of the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). The ESC is a world leader in the discovery and dissemination of best practices in cardiovascular medicine. Our members and decision-makers are healthcare professionals who volunteer their time and expertise to represent professionals in the field of cardiology in Europe and beyond.

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