Heart medications are prescribed for patients with heart disease or for those who have risk factors for heart disease. But what are these medications and what are their benefits? It is extremely important for anyone taking heart medications, or for those who care for anyone taking heart medications, to understand what they are and their usages. According to the American Heart Association, heart medications can help to lower your risk for heart attack and also relieve the symptoms of heart disease if taken appropriately.
The American Heart Association states that many common heart medications can have numerous side effects that are dangerous. There is also a high chance of adverse drug reactions. Speak with both your doctor and your pharmacist about what medications you are taking, specifically, and what the risks are. Overall, the benefits of these medications far outweigh the risks. The main types of medications used to treat and prevent heart disease are listed here along with an explanation of what each is used for. For information regarding your specific brand of medication, you should speak with your doctor or pharmacist. All of the following medications were researched on the American Heart Association website as well as eMedTV and WebMD.
Diuretics and Aldosterone Inhibitors
When you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, one of the first medications that your doctor will probably use to gain control of your blood pressure is a diuretic. Diuretics are commonly referred to as “water pills” and cause the kidneys to get rid of excess water and salt in the tissues through urine. Getting rid of this excess fluid makes it easier for the heart to pump and therefore lowers blood pressure. Diuretics are used for other medical problems and help to make breathing easier as well. Diuretics result in a frequent need to urinate and for this reason, most people prefer to take them in the morning to lower the need to urinate at night. Diuretics can also result in a dangerous loss of potassium. Your doctor may prescribe a potassium supplement as well as a diuretic to counteract this loss.
Aldosterone Inhibitors are a diuretic that do not cause potassium loss. These are a newer form of diuretic that are generally used for patients with severe heart failure. This medication blocks a chemical in the body that causes salt and fluid buildup and helps to prevent symptoms from getting worse.
ACE Inhibitors, ARBs and Vasodilators
ACE inhibitors are a type of medication that is given most frequently to patients with high blood pressure when the diuretics are not enough to lower blood pressure. Common forms of ACE inhibitors are Accupril, Lotensin, Aceon and the generic forms of ramipril, lisinopril and many others. Ace inhibitors dilate or widen the blood vessels in your body and improve the amount of blood that the heart is able to pump. This results in an increase in blood flow and a decrease in the amount of work that the heart has to do. Many over the counter drugs can react with ACE inhibitors so it is very important to speak with your doctor before taking any other medications when you are on an ACE inhibitor.
ARBs are Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers. These medications are used to lower blood pressure in people with heart failure. They decrease certain chemicals in the body that narrow the blood vessels. The result is very similar to an ACE inhibitor and these medications are usually used for people who cannot take an ACE inhibitor. Common ARBs are Losartan or Valsartan.
Vasodilators are another form of medication that relaxes the blood vessels in the body. These are also usually prescribed for people who cannot take ACE inhibitors.
Anticoagulants and Antiplatelets
Anticoagulants are a medication used to decrease the ability of the blood to clot. This helps prevent clots from forming in the arteries and blocking the flow of blood. These are sometimes called “blood thinners.” A common anticoagulant that is prescribed is warfarin or Coumadin.
Antiplatelets are a medication used to stop platelets from forming clots in the blood. These are usually given to people who have had heart attacks or angina. Aspirin is a form of antiplatelet as are Clopidogrel and Ticlid.
Beta Blockers, Digitalis Preparations and Iontropic Therapy
Beta blockers slow the rate of your heart and allow it to beat with less force. They can be used to treat high blood pressure and abnormal heart rhythms as well as to prevent a repeat heart attack. Some common beta blockers are Lopressor and Atenolol. Beta blockers can have serious drug interactions with over the counter medications so make sure to speak with a pharmacist or doctor before taking any other medications.
Digitalis preparations such as Digoxin are used to increase the force of the heart’s contractions. This will relieve heart failure symptoms,. If a patient does not respond to ACE inhibitors or diuretics, this may be prescribed.
Ionotropic therapy is used to help a weakened or injured heart pump harder. It helps relax blood vessels as well as increasing the force of the heart beat. These medications are usually used in end stage heart failure to help with symptoms. They are used only when no other medications are helping.
Calcium Channel Blockers
Calcium channel blockers relax blood vessels and affect the movement of calcium in the cells of the heart and blood vessels. They are used to treat angina and high blood pressure but are usually only used when other medications are ineffective. Norvasc and Amlodipine are forms of calcium channel blockers.
Nitrates relax blood vessels and are used to treat chest pain such as angina. They can also be used to prevent further angina attacks. The most common form of a nitrate is nitroglycerin.
Cholesterol Lowering Drugs
Cholesterol lowering medications are used to lower the bad LDL cholesterol in the blood. Since high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, this medication is used to prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol. Some cholesterol medications are Lipitor, Lopid and Zetia.
All medications that are used to treat heart disease should be treated with caution. While they will help to relieve symptoms and may help you survive a heart attack, they are not drugs to use with no forethought. Listen to the advice of your doctor and make sure that your dosing is accurate. Pay attention to your body and any side effects you may experience. If you have any concerns, speak with your doctor or pharmacist right away. Do not stop taking any medications for heart disease without first speaking to your doctor. With the proper care and treatment, heart disease is manageable. With the addition of a healthy life style and diet, heart disease can be overcome.
Medications Commonly Used to Treat Heart Failure
American Heart Association
An Introduction to Heart Medications
Common Heart Disease Drugs