A new FDA-approved class of cardiovascular medication could save thousands of heart failure patients from dying each year in the United States, according to a recent study published in JAMA Cardiology.

Heart failure occurs when the heart no longer pumps blood as well as it should. This illness, which usually develops after other conditions have damaged or weakened the heart, affects about 5.7 million adults in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, 2.7 million people with heart failure have also been diagnosed with reduced ejection fraction — the heart muscle does not contract effectively and less oxygen-rich blood is pumped out to the body. Doctors use the heart’s ejection to essentially diagnose and track heart failure. And with this new medication, ARNI therapy using a combination drug of valsartan/sacubitril called Entresto, doctors could also enhance the body's protective hormonal systems while simultaneously inhibiting the overactive hormones that harm the heart.

Although previous studies have shown that this heart failure therapy can reduce mortality in heart failure patients, researchers wanted to quantify the deaths that were prevented or postponed with ARNI therapy. To do this, they analyzed published data of patients who were eligible for the therapy. They also looked at population-based estimates of people with heart failure and reduced ejection fraction, as well as those who needed to be treated with medication in order to avert or delay death.

Researchers found that of the 2.7 million people diagnosed with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction, 84 percent were potential candidates for ARNI therapy. Their analysis also showed that if most, if not all, eligible patients received ARNI therapy, it could potentially prevent approximately 28,484 deaths each year in the U.S.

“We have demonstrated the potential gains that may be achieved with the application of ARNI therapy for patients with [heart failure and reduced ejection fraction] in the United States,” researchers wrote. “Given the substantial [heart failure] burden and potential benefits of implementation for preventing deaths, efforts to ensure comprehensive implementation of ARNI therapy should be considered.”

Heart failure can’t be cured, but it can be treated and managed with exercise, a healthy diet and lifestyle. This may include eating less salt, weight loss and smoking cessation.

Source: Fonarrow G, Hernandez A, Solomon S, Yancy C. Potential Mortality Reduction With Optimal Implementation of Angiotensin Receptor Neprilysin Inhibitor Therapy in Heart Failure. JAMA Cardiology. 2016.