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How to use inotropes is one of the most controversial topics in the management of heart failure. While most clinicians use these drugs, and recognize the state of inotrope dependency, current guidelines recommend them onlu as a bridge or palliation. Thus, inotropes are considered either neutral or detrimental in terms of outcomes. Meanwhile, properly designed randomized clinical trials testing the outcomes on inotropes, have never been performed and it is unlikely that they will ever be attempted. These trials would require randomizing patients with advanced heart failure, low output syndrome, and impaired end-organ perfusion into groups that received or not received inotropes, or received inotropes or placebo. Many physicians would consider this design unethical so the trials would be challenging to implement. But if it is unethical to deny inotropes to this subset of patients, we have to admit that inotropes do not only improve quality of life, but prolong it, or decrease mortality. Otherwise, we consider it unethical to deny the medication which increases mortality.

In this review, we analyze the current evidence relating to inotropes and outcomes. We demonstrate that the original trials were performed with agents that are no longer in use, or on patients without an indication for inotropes, or at a time before automatic cardio-defibrillators were recommended for primary prevention. We conclude that current guidelines for inotropes are misleading in their interpretation of outcomes in patients with advanced heart failure. The guidelines should be revised to adequately reflect the evidence.



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