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Medications as Part of Heart Disease Treatment

Heart medications may be necessary in addition to making lifestyle changes. Some medications decrease the workload on your heart and relieve your symptoms. Others decrease your chance of having a heart attack or sudden death, and prevent or delay the need for a special procedure (such as angioplasty or bypass surgery). Medicines may also be used to lower blood pressure or cholesterol. If you do take medications, it is vital to also faithfully maintain your heart-healthy lifestyle, because it can help to keep doses of some medications as low as possible.
Common medications used for the treatment of heart disease include:
  • Cholesterol medications.
  • Medicines that either help prevent blood clots or dissolve blood clots once they form, including:
    • Anticoagulants (such as Coumadin®), which are drugs that prevent clots from forming in your arteries and blocking blood flow.
    • Aspirin, an antiplatelet medication that prevents clots from forming in your arteries and blocking blood flow. Aspirin may not be appropriate for some people because it increases the risk of bleeding. Discuss the benefits and risks with your healthcare provider before starting aspirin therapy.
    • Other antiplatelet medications, which stop platelets from clumping together to form clots. These medications may be given to people who have had a heart attack, have angina, or who experience angina after angioplasty.
    • Glycoprotein IIb-IIIa inhibitors, which are strong antiplatelet medications that are used in the hospital during and after angioplasty or to treat angina.
    • Thrombolytics dissolve the clots that can occur during heart attacks. You need to get to the hospital as soon as possible if you think you are having a heart attack to get thrombolytic therapy.
    • Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) and angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), which lower blood pressure and reduce the strain on your heart. They also may reduce the risk for a future heart attack and congestive heart failure.
    • Beta blockers, which slow down your heart rate and lower your blood pressure to decrease the workload on your heart. Beta blockers are used to relieve angina and may also reduce the risk of a future heart attack.
    • Calcium channel blockers, which relax blood vessels and lower your blood pressure. These medications can reduce your heart's workload, help coronary arteries open, and relieve and control angina.
    • Long-acting nitrates, which open up the arteries to the heart, increasing blood flow to the heart muscle and relieving chest pain. Long-acting nitrates can limit the occurrence of chest pain when used regularly over a long period.
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