Considerations for initial therapy in the treatment of acute heart failure

William F Peacock, Chad M Cannon, Adam J Singer, Brian C Hiestand
Critical Care: the Official Journal of the Critical Care Forum 2015 November 10, 19: 399
The diagnosis of patients presenting to the emergency department with acute heart failure (AHF) is challenging due to the similarity of AHF symptoms to other conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia. Additionally, because AHF is most common in an older population, the presentation of coexistent pathologies further increases the challenge of making an accurate diagnosis and selecting the most appropriate treatment. Delays in the diagnosis and treatment of AHF can result in worse outcomes and higher healthcare costs. Rapid initiation of treatment is thus necessary for optimal disease management. Early treatment decisions for patients with AHF can be guided by risk-stratification models based on initial clinical data, including blood pressure, levels of troponin, blood urea nitrogen, serum creatinine, B-type natriuretic peptide, and ultrasound. In this review, we discuss methods for differentiating high-risk and low-risk patients and provide guidance on how treatment decisions can be informed by risk-level assessment. Through the use of these approaches, emergency physicians can play an important role in improving patient management, preventing unnecessary hospitalizations, and lowering healthcare costs. This review differs from others published recently on the topic of treating AHF by providing a detailed examination of the clinical utility of diagnostic tools for the differentiation of dyspneic patients such as bedside ultrasound, hemodynamic changes, and interrogation of implantable cardiac devices. In addition, our clinical guidance on considerations for initial pharmacologic therapy in the undifferentiated patient is provided. It is crucial for emergency physicians to achieve an early diagnosis of AHF and initiate therapy in order to reduce morbidity, mortality, and healthcare costs.

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