Every 20th German suffers from cardiac insufficiency. Although it can be treated with medication and its progression slowed down, it cannot be cured. Researchers have now developed a simple treatment method that is considered a milestone.
In Germany, almost four million people suffer from cardiac insufficiency, according to the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Converted, this affects every 20th person in Germany. The disease, also known as heart failure, is considered a widespread disease and ends fatally in many cases.
In heart failure, not enough blood is pumped around the body to deliver oxygen and nutrients to vital organs. As a result, the veins back up, causing water to accumulate in the tissues. Edema develops – especially in the feet and ankles. Those affected suffer from exhaustion and shortness of breath – in severe cases even from attacks of suffocation.
Other symptoms that are common:
Heart failure is considered incurable. It is all the more important that the disease is recognized as early as possible in order to use effective treatment methods. The problem: Those affected often do not recognize their symptoms as an illness or rate them as temporary exhaustion or signs of old age.
In order to prevent a fatal outcome of the disease, medication is vital – because if left untreated, the condition of those affected deteriorates continuously. A Belgian research team has now developed an improved method for treating heart failure with drugs – a milestone that could enable millions of people to deal with the disease significantly better.
In a press release from the Belgian Competence Center for Healthcare (KCE), the researchers describe the new treatment method, which they recently presented at the European Annual Congress of Cardiology in Barcelona, as follows: It is based on a combination of existing water-inducing drugs – so-called diuretics -, which stimulate urine production and thus help the body to flush the water out of the tissues.
The aim of heart failure treatment is to alleviate the symptoms of heart failure. This is achieved – among other things – by the administration of these diuretics, which are intended to relieve the heart of its work. They have a draining effect and reduce the storage of water in the connective tissue around the heart. Depending on the stage, so-called aldosterone antagonists are also used. They are also referred to as potassium-sparing diuretics due to their strong draining effect.
As part of the research, 519 heart failure patients from 27 different Belgian hospitals were examined. The mode of action of different diuretics was examined.
While half of the patients were treated with a conventional diuretic in combination with a placebo, the other half received a conventional diuretic in combination with acetazolamide. This diuretic is now rarely used and is mainly used in the treatment of increased intraocular pressure in glaucoma.
The result: The patients who received both diuretics were 46 percent more likely to excrete excess fluid and were able to be discharged from the hospital earlier.
Professor Wilfried Mullens of Hospital Ooost-Limburg in Genk, Belgium, who presented the results at the congress, explained the importance of the new research by saying that although conventional diuretics are effective in treating acute heart failure, they never restore a normal state.
It was already known that the combination of different diuretics can help. However, combination strategies in acute cardiac insufficiency have not yet been adequately investigated in studies. According to Mullens, what is attractive about the tested therapy strategy is that the drug acetazolamide is easy to use, has few side effects and is cheap because the patents have recently expired. He therefore expects that the study will lead to a paradigm shift in the drug treatment of heart failure.
In addition to diuretics, beta-blockers, which regulate the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline and ensure that the heart beats more evenly, are also prescribed in the treatment of heart failure. In some cases, digitalis supplements are also used to help the heart pump. Doctors mainly prescribe them to treat cardiac arrhythmia or atrial fibrillation.