Heart failure

Coping with medication for heart failure

Living with heart failure usually requires some readjustment. Some people found that they needed to establish new routines in order to remember to take their pills every day. Some also needed to watch their weight and diet more carefully than before. Those who had partners to support these changes often realised how lucky they were.

The people we spoke with were typically taking multiple medicines; some were taking between 15 and 20 tablets a day at different times of day, some with or after a meal, others on an empty stomach. While some people appeared quite well informed about their medicines, others displayed poor understanding, saying they didn’t know what some or all of their medicines did. It was common for people to be unable to remember the names of all their medicines, sometimes because of memory loss. Most people kept a list of the drugs they were taking and referred to it when they talked about their medication. Many did not know how to pronounce the names of the drugs they were taking, but two of the people we interviewed had their own copies of the British National Formulary and looked up all their drugs.

Incorporating medicine taking into normal daily routines was a common strategy, for example taking their pills with meals or as part of their getting up or going to bed routine. One man said having to take tablets in the morning with food had forced him to eat breakfast, which he hadn’t used to do. Some people took medicines only in the morning and at night, or just in the morning. People taking warfarin might have to take a different dose on different days of the week.

People used various strategies for knowing which medicine to take when, such as keeping a written list or putting out their pills ready for each time of day in the compartments of a dosette box. Some had dosette boxes made up for them by a pharmacist. Pill boxes were generally recommended by those who used them, and a man who said he had memory problems said they were a good idea.
Other kinds of containers were sometimes used, such as special bowls, bottles or spoons, to put out batches of pills to be taken at different times of day. Some just put out the original pill packets ready. People whose dose of warfarin changed frequently took these pills straight from the packets.
It was common for men to rely on their wife to put their medicines out ready or remind them to take them. This could be because of memory loss or just because the woman assumed the role of carer
Other men said they preferred to do it themselves. A man who took 15 pills a day, set alarm clocks to go off at different times to remind him to take his pills.
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People commonly said that taking their medicines had become a part of their daily routine or a habit. Most people kept their pills in a special place - often by their bed - and some carried extra tablets around with them in the day. While some said they had never forgotten to take their pills, others said it was not always easy to remember to take all their medicines at the correct time and they had occasionally forgotten. Mike said he had once taken three beta blocker tablets instead of his ACE inhibitor when he was distracted by talking to his wife. He phoned his GP and was advised to stay in bed that day. Some people said that remembering to take medicines in the middle of the day was the most difficult if they were busy or away from home.
Remembering to reorder medicines from the pharmacy at the right time could also be a problem. One man said he once went five days without his medicines when on holiday after his suitcase got lost in transit. He has since learned to pack his medicines in his hand luggage.
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Last reviewed April 2016.
Last updated April 2016.



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