Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Softening the blow

Heart Beat

Softening the blow

Sometimes the first sign of cardiovascular disease is a heart attack or stroke from out of the blue. Other times the first sign — the onset of angina, a TIA, or a minor stroke — is gentler, more like a wake-up call than a potentially deadly event. Medications that improve artery flexibility, prevent clots, act as antioxidants, and ease the heart's workload may explain why some people start out with one rather than the other.

Two studies compared people whose first inkling of cardiovascular disease was a major problem with those whose disease had a less severe onset. One big difference was that those who had been taking some combination of aspirin, an ACE inhibitor, a statin, and a beta blocker were more likely to have started out with angina or a milder stroke. Those not taking artery-protecting medications were more likely to have started their heart disease experience with a heart attack or more severe stroke.

Although these drugs don't usually feel like they are doing anything, deep inside your arteries — where it counts — they may be working together to stabilize cholesterol-filled plaque and keep it from breaking apart. This sometimes sudden event is what triggers the majority of heart attacks and strokes.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »