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New drug fights heart failure

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9:15pm, November 21, 2005
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From Dallas, Texas, at a meeting of the American Heart Association

A drug called levosimendan, in combination with standard drugs, eases symptoms in patients hospitalized for heart failure better than do those drugs alone, scientists report. Heart failure, which affects 5 million people in the United States, is marked by the organ's inability to beat vigorously. Patients with the condition often experience shortness of breath, shakiness, weakness, and sweating.

In the new study, researchers identified 600 such patients whose symptoms had gotten so bad that they were admitted to hospitals, in the United States, Australia, and Israel. All received standard medical care. To start the study, half also got a 24-hour infusion of levosimendan, and half got a placebo infusion.

During the first 5 days, one-third more of the levosimendan recipients than the others showed reductions in symptoms, says Milton Packer, a physician at the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Levosimendan dilates blood vessels to improve blood flow and increases the heart's sensitivity to calcium, which intensifies contractions and boosts pumping capacity.

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