The Management of Acute Heart Failure and Diuretic Therapy

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One million patients are hospitalized each year with acute decompensated heart failure, and up to 20% of these patients are rehospitalized within a month after the acute presentation. Acute heart failure (AHF) accounts for 50,000 deaths annually and is the most frequent reason for hospital admissions in the United States. This article reviews the therapeutic options and the results of recent clinical trials in the treatment of AHF. Most patients can be effectively managed by use of diuretic agents or diuretics in combinations with nitrates, IV nitroglycerin, IV nitroprusside, and possibly IV nesiritide. Ultrafiltration is a promising technique that can be very helpful in the resistant patient. However, given the ease of initiation of diuretic therapy, it is unlikely that ultrafiltration would supplant diuretic use in acutely symptomatic patients. Patients in acute distress with AHF almost invariably respond to diuretics or a vasodilator combined with diuretic therapy. The loop diuretics are the most effective diuretics and thus most frequently used agents in treating AHF. Currently, there are 4 loop diuretics in the US market: furosemide, bumetanide, torsemide, and ethacrynic acid. IV furosemide and ethacrynic acid have a prompt venous dilatory effect, consequently decrease left ventricular filling pressure and immediately relieve symptoms of pulmonary congestion, before a diuresis can occur. Furosemide is more often used than ethacrynic acid due to its reduced ototoxic potential. However, ethacrynic acid should be used in sulfa-sensitive patients because ethacrynic acid is the only loop diuretic, which does not contain a sulfa moiety.

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