Use of Medicines that May Exacerbate Heart Failure in Older Adults: Therapeutic Complexity of Multimorbidity

  • Gillian E. CaugheyEmail author
  • Sepehr Shakib
  • John D. Barratt
  • Elizabeth E. Roughead
Original Research Article



Multimorbidity is common in older patients with heart failure (HF), complicating therapeutic management and increasing the risk of harm.


This study sought to examine the prevalence of medicines for the treatment of comorbid conditions potentially associated with harm in older people, before and after HF hospitalization.


A retrospective cohort study of older people hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of HF over a 12-month period was conducted using administrative health claims data from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) Australia. We examined the prevalence of medicines that may exacerbate or worsen HF as defined by the American Heart Association (AHA) and Australian HF clinical guidelines, in the 30 days prior and 120 days before and after discharge for HF.


A total of 4069 older adults were hospitalized for HF during the study period; almost 60% (n = 2435) received at least one medicine associated with an increased risk of harm before hospitalization, with the majority (66.7%, n = 1623) dispensed in the 30 days prior. A small but significant reduction after hospitalization was observed, but 56% (n = 1638) received at least one of these medicines after hospitalization (p = 0.001). Over one-quarter received two or more medicines before hospitalization, and this only reduced to 22% post-hospitalization (p < 0.0001).


Little change in the prescribing of potentially harmful medicines for HF was observed; 56% of older adults received at least one following hospitalization for HF, highlighting the therapeutic complexity of multimorbidity in HF. Use of the AHA list to facilitate identification of potentially harmful medicines, followed by prioritization of treatment goals and appropriate risk mitigation are needed to facilitate reduction in hospitalization for patients with HF with multimorbidity.



The authors thank the Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs for providing the data used in this study.

Author contributions

GEC contributed to the study design and analysis plan and data and statistical analysis, wrote the manuscript, and reviewed/edited manuscript. SS and EER contributed to the study design and analysis plan and reviewed and edited the manuscript. JDB contributed to the data and statistical analysis and reviewed and edited the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


This study was supported by funding from an Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Centre of Research Excellence in Post-Marketing Surveillance of Medicines and Medical Devices Grant (APP1040938). EER is supported by an NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellowship (APP1110139).

Conflict of interest

GE Caughey, S Shakib, JD Barratt, and EE Roughead have no conflicts of interest that might be relevant to the contents of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Discipline of Pharmacology, Adelaide Medical SchoolUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.School of Pharmacy and Medical SciencesUniversity of South AustraliaAdelaideAustralia
  3. 3.Clinical PharmacologyRoyal Adelaide HospitalAdelaideAustralia

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