'Global revolution': Belgian scientists develop improved treatment for heart failure

'Global revolution': Belgian scientists develop improved treatment for heart failure
Credit: Belga

A team of cardiologists in Belgium has developed an improved treatment for heart failure consisting of the combination of current medication with an old plasma medicine.

Scientists at the Ziekenhuis Oost-Limburg (ZOL) on Saturday revealed the results of a large, national study in 27 hospitals in Belgium, in which they showed that a new combination of medicines works better for patients with serious heart problems than the classic treatment.

The treatment has been hailed by the medical community as a "global revolution" that would help "millions of patients worldwide."

Adding to classic treatment

Heart failure means that the heart is unable to pump blood around the body properly, usually because the organ has become too weak or stiff. Some 230,000 people in Belgium suffer from heart failure, according to data published in 2020, and there are an average of 45 new cases every day.

People suffering from the chronic condition, which significantly increases the risk of premature death, often complain of shortness of breath or swollen legs, as the failure results in fluid accumulation.

The classic treatment consists of administering diuretics, a certain type of fluid reducer, via an infusion. But this treatment is often not very effective.

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The team, led by cardiologist Wilfried Mullens, showed in a study of 519 patients that the combination of diuretics (also known as water pills, which help rid bodies of salt and water) with acetazolamide, an old plasma medicine that is now only used for glaucoma and altitude sickness, can significantly improve the effectiveness of the treatment.

Patients who received the combination of these two diuretics were 46% more likely to have lost the excess fluid after three days and could leave the hospital much earlier than others, according to the researchers.

Moreover, acetazolamide is safe, easy to administer and very cheap, because it is no longer patented.

The study will be presented at the annual European Congress of Cardiology in Barcelona, the largest cardiology congress in the world, on Saturday.

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