Heart Failure: A Palliative Medicine Review of Disease, Therapies, and Medications With a Focus on Symptoms, Function, and Quality of Life

Caroline McGuinty, Derek Leong, Andrea Weiss, Jane MacIver, Ebru Kaya, Lindsay Hurlburt, Filio Billia, Heather Ross, Kirsten Wentlandt
Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 2020, 59 (5): 1127-1146.e1
Despite significant advances in heart failure (HF) treatment, HF remains a progressive, extremely symptomatic, and terminal disease with a median survival of 2.1 years after diagnosis. HF often leads to a constellation of symptoms, including dyspnea, fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia, pain, and worsened cognitive function. Palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their caregivers facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness and therefore is well suited to support these patients. However, historically, palliative care has often focused on supporting patients with malignant disease, rather than a progressive chronic disease such as HF. Predicting mortality in patients with HF is challenging. The lack of obvious transition points in disease progression also raises challenges to primary care providers and specialists to know at what point to integrate palliative care during a patient's disease trajectory. Although therapies for HF often result in functional and symptomatic improvements including health-related quality of life (HRQL), some patients with HF do not demonstrate these benefits, including those patients with a preserved ejection fraction. Provision of palliative care for patients with HF requires an understanding of HF pathogenesis and common medications used for these patients, as well as an approach to balancing life-prolonging and HRQL care strategies. This review describes HF and current targeted therapies and their effects on symptoms, hospital admission rates, exercise performance, HRQL, and survival. Pharmacological interactions with and precautions related to commonly used palliative care medications are reviewed. The goal of this review is to equip palliative care clinicians with information to make evidence-based decisions while managing the balance between optimal disease management and patient quality of life.

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