The use of long-term and continuous intravenous inotropic support (CIIS) has increased over the past decade. Published evidence indicates that CIIS improves New York Heart Association functional class but does not impact survival. American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) guidelines published in 2013 delineated indications for intravenous inotropic support. Long-term CIIS as palliative therapy (i.e., aim is symptomatic improvement in patients who are not appropriate for surgical therapies) in patients with ACC/AHA Stage D congestive heart failure (CHF) despite optimal medical treatment and device therapy was assigned a Class IIb recommendation (Level of Evidence B).
Heart failure is a chronic, progressive illness that is increasing in prevalence in the USA. Patients with advanced heart failure experience a high symptom burden that is comparable to patients with advanced cancer. Palliative care, however, is underutilized in patients with heart failure, and symptoms may go untreated as the disease progresses. A combination of pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic interventions should be used to address symptoms and maintain quality of life. While there have been significant advances in evidence-based heart failure treatments in recent years, selection of appropriate palliative medications as symptoms progress is challenging due to limited clinical studies in this patient population. Medications that are commonly used for symptom management in other life-limiting illnesses may have little to no evidence in heart failure, or have undesirable cardiac effects that preclude use. Clinicians must extrapolate available clinical evidence and prescribing considerations relevant to heart failure to palliate symptoms as well as possible. The objectives of this paper are to review the most common and distressing symptoms in heart failure, analyze evidence, or lack thereof, for pharmacologic management of symptoms, and provide prescribing considerations based on side effect profiles and comorbid conditions.