Angiotensin Antagonism in Patients with Heart Failure
- First Online:
Chronic heart failure (CHF) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in western society. It is now widely accepted that the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS) and, in particular, angiotensin II (A-II) play a key role in the pathophysiology of CHF. Large-scale clinical trials have demonstrated that inhibitors of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), the principal enzyme responsible for A-II production, improve symptoms and survival in patients with CHF. This enzyme is also responsible for the breakdown of the vasodilator hormone bradykinin. Administration of ACE inhibitors is associated with increased plasma bradykinin levels and this is thought to contribute to the vascular changes associated with ACE inhibitor therapy. However, RAAS inhibition with ACE inhibitors remains incomplete because ACE inhibitors do not block the non-ACE-mediated conversion of angiotensin I to A-II. Angiotensin receptor antagonists (angiotensin receptor blockers; ARBs) antagonize the action of A-II at the A-II type 1 (AT1) receptor, whilst allowing the potentially beneficial actions of A-II mediated via the A-II type 2 (AT2) receptor. Evidence that the clinical benefit demonstrated with ACE inhibitors in patients with CHF may extend to ARBs has only emerged recently. Combination therapy with both an ACE inhibitor and an ARB has a number of potential advantages and has been investigated in several large-scale clinical trials recently. In patients with CHF, first-line therapy should include an ACE inhibitor and a β-adrenoceptor antagonist. The addition of an ARB provides symptomatic relief but has not been shown to improve survival. Where an ACE inhibitor is not tolerated, treatment with an ARB would seem an appropriate alternative. There is insufficient data to support the routine use of ARBs as first-line therapy in the management of CHF.