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Heart disease health centre

Positive inotropic drugs (other than digoxin)

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people with heart failure. It tells you about positive inotropic drugs other than digoxin. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Do they work?

No. Digoxin is the only drug of this type that works to treat heart failure.

What are they?

Positive inotropic drugs make your heart beat more strongly and efficiently. Some examples (with their brand names) are:

  • dobutamine (Posiject)

  • dopexamine (Dopacard)

  • milrinone (Primacor).

They are given as a drip into a vein (also called an intravenous infusion or IV).

How can they help?

Apart from digoxin, positive inotropic drugs don't seem to help, and they may even make it more likely that you will die of heart failure. [125] [126]

How do they work?

Positive inotropic agents make your heart beat more strongly, so blood is pumped around your body more vigorously. But there is no evidence that this helps with symptoms of heart failure. In fact, more evidence suggests that they increase the risk of dying of heart failure.

Can they be harmful?

Studies of positive inotropic drugs have lasted six months to nine months. In this time, these drugs increased the risk of dying from heart failure. [125] [126]

In one study, 17 in 100 people died while taking positive inotropic drugs, compared with 15 in 100 taking a dummy treatment (a placebo). [126]

How good is the research on positive inotropic drugs (other than digoxin)?

There's good research to show that positive inotropic drugs (other than digoxin) don't help with heart failure.

Two reviews of the research compared positive inotropic drugs with a dummy treatment (a placebo). [125] [126] More people died while taking positive inotropic drugs.


intravenous infusion

When a medicine or a fluid, such as blood, is fed directly into a vein, it's called an intravenous infusion (or IV). To give you an intravenous infusion, a nurse, technician or a doctor places a narrow plastic tube into a vein (usually in your arm) using a needle. The needle is then removed and the fluid is infused (or dripped) through the tube into the vein.


A placebo is a 'pretend' or dummy treatment that contains no active substances. A placebo is often given to half the people taking part in medical research trials, for comparison with the 'real' treatment. It is made to look and taste identical to the drug treatment being tested, so that people in the studies do not know if they are getting the placebo or the 'real' treatment. Researchers often talk about the 'placebo effect'. This is where patients feel better after having a placebo treatment because they expect to feel better. Tests may indicate that they actually are better. In the same way, people can also get side effects after having a placebo treatment. Drug treatments can also have a 'placebo effect'. This is why, to get a true picture of how well a drug works, it is important to compare it against a placebo treatment.

positive inotropic drugs

Positive inotropic drugs are drugs that make your heart beat more strongly. They are used to treat heart failure. 'Inotropic' means something that affects how a muscle tightens.

For more terms related to Heart failure


For references related to Heart failure click here.
Last Updated: October 01, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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