Using Dopamine to Treat Heart Failure

Dopamine molecule
Dopamine molecule. Credit: Science Photo Library - PASIEKA / Getty Images

Dopamine treats heart failure, which contributes to 300,000 U.S. deaths a year, by revving up heart function and helping the body get rid of extra fluid that gathers as a result of the heart's weakness.

Forceful Dopamine 

By making the heart beat more forcefully, dopamine helps it circulate oxygen-rich blood more efficiently.

Dopamine isn't usually the first treatment choice. A combination of drugs and other therapies will probably be tried first, but if they don't work, dopamine may be the next choice.

It is only given intravenously, usually in a hospital setting, with careful monitoring of its effects.

Dopamine is especially useful in premature babies and infants with other heart problems. It can boost babies' heart rates and blood pressure—significantly improving their chances of survival.

Improving Heart Function 

Low blood pressure is a common problem in heart failure, and dopamine raises it.  Dopamine works together with the neurotransmitter and hormone norepinephrine, which supplies energy to the body in times of stress and helps nerve impulses travel from one neuron to another, delivering "messages" throughout the body.

Dopamine increases how much urine the body produces, which helps the body get rid of the extra fluid building up in the lungs, arms, and legs. The extra fluid causes two common symptoms of heart failure: swelling or parts of the body and coughing.

But it is not entirely clear whether dopamine really makes the kidneys function better so that can they deal with the extra fluid problem.

More research is likely in this area to clarify what is really going on.

On a related note in addition to vasopressors, dopamine is first-line treatment for shock, which is marked by life-threatening drops in blood pressure.

Adverse Effects

If you are placed on a dopamine infusion, you will need to have regular blood tests.

Side effects like irregular heartbeat, headaches, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, diarrhea, and blurred vision are more common the amount of dopamine in the blood wanders off its ideal level.


Dopamine shouldn't be taken with beta blockers (another class of heart medications), which lengthen and strengthen the normal effect of dopamine.


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