Heart Medications

Given the many conditions that affect the heart, it's no surprise that hundreds of medications have been developed to treat heart disease and related conditions. Medications are available to:

·       lower cholesterol

·       lower blood pressure

·       slow the heart rate

·       stop abnormal heart rhythms

·       improve the force of heart contractions

·       improve circulation in the coronary arteries (nitrates and other anti-angina medications)

·       prevent blood from clotting (anticoagulants (also known as blood thinners) and antiplatelet agents)

·       break apart clots that have formed in an artery or vein (thrombolytics, also known as clot busters)

·       remove excess water from the body (diuretics, also known as water pills)

The development of these medications have helped dramatically decrease death rates from cardiovascular disease in the United States and other developed countries.

Heart Medications Articles

Update on aspirin

For people who have not had a heart attack, the question of whether or not to take a daily aspirin is a matter of weighing potential benefits against potential harm. More »

Surviving a heart attack: A success story

  Heart attack survival rates are much higher than they were a few decades ago, thanks to greater awareness, new clot-busting drugs, and expanded access to specialized cardiac treatment centers.   More »

Alternative to warfarin

People with atrial fibrillation are at higher risk of having a stroke because they are more susceptible to the blood clots that cause stroke. When the atria (the top two chambers of the heart) fibrillate (beat chaotically), blood collects in the heart, giving clots a chance to form. One of those clots can travel to the head, get stuck in a blood vessel there, and cause a stroke by depriving a part of the brain of the oxygen and nutrients it needs; some of the cells of the brain die, possibly taking with them the ability to move, speak, feel, think, or even recognize people. Warfarin prevents blood clots by making the platelets in the blood less sticky. It's a good, time-tested drug. But warfarin is tricky to use. Some experience bleeding problems like nosebleeds. Yet if you take back the dose too far to avoid bleeding, you're back to where you started: running the risk that a blood clot may form and cause a stroke. Doctors try to steer people down the middle by monitoring them with international normalized ratio (INR) tests, which measure how fast the blood clots. But people's response to warfarin is variable, and the drug interacts with a lot of food and medications. A good alternative to warfarin has been on the wish list of many "afib" patients — and their doctors — for years. (Locked) More »

Beyond the coronary arteries: Possible benefits of statin drugs Part I: Meet the statins

Statins can reduce the risk of heart attacks and other major clinical manifestations of coronary artery disease (CAD) by up to 37%, with the greatest benefit going to men at the highest risk. And since heart disease is America's leading cause of death, it's no wonder that the seven statin drugs are the best-selling prescription medications in the United States. A large body of research suggests they may also have important benefits beyond the coronary arteries. (Locked) More »

Aspirin and your heart: Many questions, some answers

The benefit of taking a daily aspirin to protect against a heart attack is well established, but this protection comes with some increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. Here are some questions and answers to help you decide if taking a daily aspirin is right for you. More »

The Healthy Heart: Preventing, detecting, and treating coronary artery disease

Although lifestyle changes are an essential first step in treating coronary artery disease, you may need to take medications to reach your cholesterol and blood pressure goals and otherwise reduce your risk. In fact, most people with heart disease need to take more than one medication. The specific combination of drugs will depend on your particular symptoms and risk factors. Some of the most commonly prescribed medications are described below. For many years, doctors used diuretics — sometimes known as water pills — to treat high blood pressure. Although diuretics remain a mainstay of blood pressure treatment because they are cheap and effective, a flood of other drugs have become available since the 1980s. In addition, a large meta-analysis comparing the various options concluded that the five categories of drugs currently available are equally effective for most people. Work with your doctor to determine the best type of medication for you. It is important to keep in mind, though, that most people with hypertension do not get their blood pressure under control with the starting dose of the first drug chosen. At that point, two philosophies exist about what to try next. Some doctors increase the dosage of the first drug to see if it will bring blood pressure down to target levels. The advantage of this approach is simplicity, as the person being treated takes one pill per day. A second approach is to use low doses of two or more blood pressure drugs that work in different ways. This approach minimizes the likelihood of side effects, but may be harder to follow, as it requires taking two or more pills per day. It may also be more expensive for the person being treated, as he or she may face additional copayments or out-of-pocket expenses for the drugs. A compromise approach is to use combination medicines that include, for example, both an ACE inhibitor and a low-dose diuretic. This is convenient, but many combinations are available only in brand-name forms and are thus more expensive. More »

Medication vs. stents for heart disease treatment

What's the best way to "fix" a narrowed coronary artery? That question was the crux of a multimillion-dollar trial dubbed COURAGE, short for Clinical Outcomes Utilizing Revascularization and Aggressive Drug Evaluation. Its results, presented in the spring of 2007, stunned some doctors and seemed to shock the media, but we hope they won't come as a surprise to readers: For people with stable coronary artery disease (clogged arteries nourishing the heart), artery-opening angioplasty was no better than medications and lifestyle changes at preventing future heart attacks or strokes, nor did it extend life. The media tended to play up the COURAGE results, which were presented at the American College of Cardiology's annual meeting in March, as a David slays Goliath story. But it wasn't that at all. Before going any further, it's important to stress that this trial compared angioplasty and medical therapy only for stable angina (chest pain on exertion) or narrowed coronary arteries that don't cause any symptoms. For a sudden blockage of a coronary artery, emergency artery-opening balloon angioplasty followed by the placement of a stent is the best remedy around. (Locked) More »

Aspirin for heart attack: Chew or swallow?

You've always been healthy, but you seemed to run out of steam at your wife's 60th birthday dinner last week. And now your chest feels heavy, as if you're in a vise. You take some antacids, even though it's 7:00 a.m. and you haven't even had breakfast. But you get no relief, and the pain is spreading to your jaw and shoulder. You call your wife, who takes one look at you and rushes to the phone. After calling 911, she brings you an aspirin and some water. Your wife got it right: You may be having a heart attack, and you need to get to the hospital fast. You also need to get some aspirin into your system quickly — but should you chew the tablet or swallow it? More »