Heart failure

Other side effects of heart failure medication

In addition to common side effects (see ‘Common side effects of heart failure medication) the people we spoke to attributed several other problems to their heart failure medicines. These included erectile dysfunction (impotence), breast enlargement in men, damage to the liver and thyroid gland and sensitivity to the sun.
Some men noticed they had lost interest in sex (loss of libido) since having heart failure and several could not maintain an erection ; most did not know whether to blame heart failure or medication, though one man was convinced that atenolol had affected his sexual ability. Reduced libido and impotence are known side effects of several types of medicine (beta blockers in particular are well known for causing problems with erections) although they can also be caused by cardiovascular disease and other medical conditions. Older men had accepted their impotence and ceased sexual activity. A 74-year-old man said he was aware that impotence was a potential side effect of his medicines but he hadn’t put it to the test. Although the drug Viagra (sildenafil) is widely prescribed to help with erectile dysfunction, it is not recommended for people with heart conditions because it raises blood pressure.
Impotence was more of an issue for the younger men we spoke to, who were more likely to want to try to find ways to overcome it.
Two men had experienced breast enlargement and soreness which had shocked them; one didn't know what the cause was, and the other said the condition improved when he stopped taking spironolactone (a type of diuretic).
Several people experienced extreme reactions to particular drugs, for example one man found he couldn't tolerate simvastatin (Zocor) which gave him hepatitis (an inflamed liver) and made him ill for 2 years.
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Others had adverse reactions to amiodarone, a medicine for heart rhythm problems, including sensitivity to the sun, and though one person had been warned to avoid the sun by his doctor he had taken no notice and got burned. Since then he had taken to wearing gloves and a straw hat whenever he goes outside. Some men developed a thyroid condition as a result of taking amiodarone, so now took thyroxine in addition to their other medicines.
Other bodily changes blamed on medicine side effects included aching legs, skin conditions, sleeping difficulties, fatigue, glaucoma and cataracts, memory loss and poor concentration. Norman had a psychotic experience when taking an experimental drug as part of a clinical trial, so had to stop it.
Occasionally people became aware of interactions between two or more medicines. For instance one woman said that the action of her warfarin had been blocked by a herbal sleeping pill and by antibiotics. She says she always consults a pharmacist when starting new medicines. Richard found that the medicines he was taking for a prostate problem were interfering with his heart medicines, so he stopped it. Ted believed that drinking alcohol had interacted with one of his heart medicines, so he gave up alcohol. A man said that he was starting on a beta blocker very slowly as it was recognised that it could affect his asthma.
Several people saw no point in worrying about possible side effects because the drugs were necessary to counteract their heart failure, Not everyone said they had experienced side effects from their heart failure medicines. Some people said they found reading the list of side effects in the leaflet accompanying each medicine scary or off-putting. Others said they don’t read this information for precisely this reason or because it might make them imagine they were having all the side effects listed. One woman said she re-read her medicine leaflets repeatedly as a reminder of the side effects so that she would recognise them as such if they occurred.
Because drugs affect people differently it is important to talk to a doctor about any side effects as it is often possible to change medication.

See our resources for publications which explain heart failure medications in more detail.

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Summary added in April 2016.


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