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Although making lifestyle changes to avoid heart disease and its risk factors is the best defense, it’s not always enough. Fortunately, there are hundreds of medications designed to help relieve risk factors, heart disease symptoms and heart disease itself.
“Drug therapy can help you avoid a heart attack,” says Palmetto Health Richland Heart Hospital cardiologist Dr. Bill Phillips. “Given in the right quantity and taken exactly as prescribed, medication can do wonders. It can help prevent complications and slow the progression of cardiovascular diseases.
“If you’re taking any medication, you should have an understanding of what it’s for and how and when you’re supposed to take it,” Phillips advises. “And, if you don’t feel like your medication is making a difference in how you feel, talk to your doctor.”
Some of the more commonly prescribed types of heart disease medications, their generic chemical names, and the illness/symptoms they treat include:
Angina, chest pain triggered by the heart not receiving enough oxygenated blood, is often treated with anti-anginaldrugs such as beta-blockers, calcium blockers and nitrates.
Arrhythmias, which are abnormal rhythms of the heart, cause the heart to pump less effectively. Drug therapy for patients suffering from arrhythmias is dependent on the type of arrhythmia, such as too fast or too slow. Medications prescribed include sotolol, amiodarone, verapamil and digoxin.
Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Agents
Both anticoagulants and antiplatelet agents are medications that reduce blood clotting in an artery, vein or the heart. Such clots can block the blood flow to your heart and cause a heart attack. The most common anticoagulants are coumadin and heparin. The most common antiplatelet agent is aspirin.
Blood Pressure-Lowering Drugs
Blood pressure-lowering drugs can help control blood pressure when diet and exercise alone have not succeeded. Some of the more commonly prescribed medications include:
Diuretics lower blood pressure by causing the body to rid itself of excess fluids and sodium through urination. Some commonly prescribed diuretics include furosemide, hydrochlorothiazide and spironolactone.
Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors
These drugs are used to expand blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more easily and making the heart work more efficiently. They include benazepril, captopril, enalapril, lisinopril, quinapril and ramipril.
These drugs decrease the heart rate and cardiac output, which lowers blood pressure, and include atenolol, metroprolol, nadolol, propranolol, and timolol.
Cholesterol-reducing drugs lower the levels of fats (lipids) in the blood, which include cholesterol and triglycerides. Considered the first line of treatment for most patients, statins block the production of specific enzymes used by the body to make cholesterol and have been shown to reduce the risk of a first heart attack. Statins include atorvastatin, fluvastatin, lovastatin, pravastatin, rosuvastatin and simvastatin. Other medications used to lower cholesterol
include bile acid resins, niacin and fibrates.
Phillips strongly suggests making sure your doctor knows all the medications you’re taking, including over-the-counter medications. Potentially dangerous drug interactions can occur when different drugs mix together and work against each other.
Medications often can be expensive, especially if you regularly take more than one. Most pharmaceutical companies have patient assistance programs designed to help make filling your prescriptions less of a financial burden. Ask your physician for more information.