Supportive treatment for heart disease
ATTR amyloid deposits in the heart cause the heart to stiffen which can lead to symptoms of heart failure. Patients can benefit from supportive treatment measures for heart failure. However many standard medications used for heart failure are not helpful for patients with cardiac amyloidosis. Careful attention to fluid balance is important.
The most important principle of treatment for cardiac amyloidosis is strict fluid balance control. Specialist heart failure nurse involvement may help patients to achieve this. Many patients with ATTR cardiac amyloidosis should limit their fluid intake. This advice is extremely important, but is often overlooked.
When there is cardiac amyloidosis, the heart may be too stiff to pump the blood efficiently around the body. This can lead to fluid build- up, causing leg swelling (oedema) and breathlessness due to fluid in the lungs. This problem is exacerbated if the patient drinks too much fluid.
Fluid excess can be avoided by careful attention to the 3 Ds:
Fluid intake should be steady and should usually not exceed 1.5 litres per day.
Salt intake should be limited. This includes attention not just to salt deliberately added to the food during cooking or at the table but also to ready prepared foods with high salt content such as processed foods, crisps, bacon, canned meats, sausages, canned soups and smoked fish. Apart from that, a balanced, healthy diet is always advisable. It can be very helpful to meet with a dietician for precise and personalised dietary advice.
Doctors will often prescribe diuretics (water tablets) which increase the amount of urine produced and help the body to lose excess salt and water in the urine. This can help to reduce ankle swelling and breathlessness. Diuretics prescribed may include furosemide and spironolactone. Taking these drugs is not a substitute for avoidance of excessive dietary salt and water.
Patients should follow their doctor’s advice carefully regarding the dose of diuretic and the time of day when the tablet should be taken.
Some patients benefit from recording their weight regularly, usually daily or weekly. It is important that weight should be measured consistently – using the same scales, at the same time of day. This is usually best done first thing in the morning after passing urine, just wearing underclothes. Several litres of fluid can accumulate in the body without it being very noticeable. An increase in weight can be an early sign of fluid overload. The doctor or nurse can then recommend appropriate measures such as increased diuretic dose, before the patient even feels unwell because of the fluid overload.