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Heart Disease And Medication

National Institutes of Health

Sometimes, medications may be needed to help prevent or control coronary heart disease (CHD) and so reduce the risk of a first or repeat heart attack. But, if medications are needed, lifestyle changes still must be undertaken.

If prescribed, take medications as directed by your health care provider.

Drugs used to treat CHD include:

-Aspirin – Aspirin helps to lower the risk of a heart attack for those who have already had one. It also helps to keep arteries open in those who have had a previous heart bypass or other artery-opening procedure such as coronary angioplasty. (More on aspirin and heart attack)

Because of its risks, aspirin is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for preventing heart attacks in healthy individuals. It may be harmful for some persons, especially those with no risk of heart disease. Patients must be assessed carefully to make sure the benefits of taking aspirin outweigh the risks. Talk to your doctor about whether taking aspirin is right for you. (For details on the use of aspirin to prevent heart attacks, please visit the FDA Web site.)

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-Digitalis – makes the heart contract harder and is used when the heart’s pumping function has been weakened; it also slows some fast heart rhythms.

-ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitor – stops the production of a chemical that makes blood vessels narrow and is used to help control high blood pressure and for damaged heart muscle. It may be prescribed after a heart attack to help the heart pump blood better. It is also used for persons with heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to supply the body’s needs.

-Beta blocker – slows the heart and makes it beat with less contracting force, so blood pressure drops and the heart works less hard. It is used for high blood pressure, chest pain, and to prevent a repeat heart attack.

-Nitrates (including nitroglycerine) – relaxes blood vessels and stops chest pain.

-Calcium channel blocker – relaxes blood vessels and is used for high blood pressure and chest pain.

-Diuretic – decreases fluid in the body and is used for high blood pressure. Diuretics are sometimes referred to as “water pills.”

-Blood cholesterol-lowering agents – decrease LDL cholesterol levels in the blood.

-Thrombolytic agents–also called “clot busting drugs,” they are given during a heart attack to break up a blood clot in a coronary artery in order to restore blood flow. (More on these and heart attack)

Drugs can cause side effects. If side effects occur, report them to your doctor. Often, a change in the dose or type of a medication, or the use of a combination of drugs can stop the side effect.

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