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What are Common Medications for Heart Disease?

Over the past decade, heart disease rates have increased substantially, reaching all-time highs. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, nearly 18 million people across the globe die each year from heart disease; that's a 17% jump over the past ten years. Therefore, it’s no surprise that heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. 

Heart disease is an umbrella term that encompasses several heart conditions, including heart attack, stroke, heart failure, arrhythmia, and heart valve complications. Each of these conditions has its own set of causes and symptoms, but without proper treatment, they are all potentially life-threatening. 

Fortunately, common medications for heart disease are widely available and they’re worth discussing with your doctor.

What Are the Roles of Common Medications for Heart Disease?

 

Heart disease treatment is a complex and, at times, very demanding process. It involves numerous components, including medication, dieting, and exercise -- all working together for maximum effectiveness.

Your heart disease medication and treatment regimen will vary depending on the symptoms and severity of your condition. However, by working with your doctor and your health care provider, you're sure to find a treatment plan that is right for you!

 

9 Common Medications Taken For Heart Disease

There are so types of drugs that are used to treat heart disease, and your doctor will decide the best treatment for your loved one's situation. The following 9 medications give you a quick look at many typical cardiac medications. 

 

1. Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors

ACE inhibitors work by not allowing your body to convert angiotensin I into angiotensin II. Angiotensin is a hormone produced naturally within your body, and when it’s released, angiotensin-converting enzymes transform it into angiotensin II.

Typically a healthy person can handle angiotensin II without it causing any ill effects. However, if you have specific cardiovascular issues, such as coronary heart disease or hypertension, then angiotensin II is problematic. This is because angiotensin II causes blood vessels to constrict, which, in turn, raises your blood pressure.

Therefore, taking an ACE inhibiting medication prevents angiotensin I from converting angiotensin II. Inhibiting the conversion of angiotensin allows blood flow to continue unrestricted and helps you to maintain lower blood pressure levels.

Additionally, ACE inhibitors aid your heart muscle and heart rate in recovering after you suffer a heart attack, and they reduce the chances of having another attack.

The most common ACE inhibitors are:

    • Lisinopril

    • Ramipril

    • Benazepril

    • Enalapril

2. Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers (ARBs)

ARBs' are similar to ACE inhibitors, as they both work in preventing angiotensin II from constricting blood vessels in your body. Despite their similarities, ARBs block the receptors that process the angiotensin II hormone after being converted from angiotensin I. ARBs also assist in keeping the blood vessels open and unconstricted, preventing high blood pressure.

Angiotensin II receptor blockers are typically only prescribed for patients with adverse reactions to ACE inhibitors.

The most common ARBs are:

    • Losartan

    • Valsartan

    • Olmesartan

    • Eprosartan


3. Anticoagulants

Coagulated blood, also known as a blood clot, is a semi-solid mass of blood that typically forms in response to an external wound or damage to an artery or blood vessel. It is the blood clots' job to stop any bleeding and close off the wound so that the healing process can begin.

However, sometimes a clot will form for no apparent reason, and instead of helping, it creates a life-threatening situation by blocking blood flow. This type of clot can occur nearly anywhere in your body, but when a clot blocks the blood flowing to your heart muscle.

The symptoms of arterial thrombosis are chest pain, shortness of breath, and dizziness — the precursors of a heart attack. Fortunately, the chances of suffering a heart attack from a blood clot can be reduced significantly by taking anticoagulants.

Anticoagulants are often colloquially referred to as blood thinners, even though they do not thin the blood. Anticoagulants not only prevent existing blood clots from growing in size, but they eliminate the chance that you’ll have another blood clot while taking them. On the other hand, anticoagulants cannot break down an existing blood clot.

The most common anticoagulants:

    • Warfarin

    • Dabigatran

    • Rivaroxaban

    • Apixaban

4. Antiplatelet Agents

Numerous risk factors lead to plaque buildup in your arteries, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and a sedentary lifestyle.

Plaque buildup causes your artery walls to become narrow and undulated, making it easier for blood cells to collect and, eventually, block blood flow. If your doctor is concerned with the plaque in your arteries, they may prescribe an antiplatelet agent.

Antiplatelets are similar to anticoagulants as they both stave off blood clots and future heart attacks. However, unlike anticoagulants, antiplatelets utilize thromboxane to ensure platelets don’t stick together in a clot. 

Antiplatelet medications are also commonly prescribed to patients with abnormal heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation. Conversely, this treatment does not apply to those with arrhythmias, which raises the risk of blood clots.

The most common antiplatelet agents are:

    • Clopidogrel

    • Prasugrel

    • Ticagrelor

    • Aspirin

5. Beta-Blockers

Beta-blockers are well-known for their effectiveness in managing abnormal heart rhythms and high blood pressure, but they can also prevent a second heart attack, which makes them unique.

Beta-blockers have been a top-of-the-line medication for high blood pressure for many years, but they have since taken a backseat to alternatives. However, doctors have recently used beta blockers as a preventative measure against secondary heart attacks.

Beta-blockers block the receptors of adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) functions in your body. Through a chain of events, the beta blockers can regulate the fight or flight response and help to control stress levels. 

When stressors and stress are minimum, the chances of chest pain, let alone a heart attack, are significantly lower.

The most common beta blockers are:

    • Bisoprolol

    • Metoprolol

    • Acebutolol

    • Nebivolol

 

6. Calcium Channel Blockers

As an effective antihypertensive medication, calcium channel blockers work through the calcium channels in your body to block the transfer of calcium. These channel blockers are very effective in lowering blood pressure for those who suffer from hypertension. It has also proven beneficial for reducing blood pressure in elderly patients.

Calcium channel blockers have shown to be a better option for hypertension treatment when compared with beta-blockers, although calcium blockers have more side effects. If you suffer from high blood pressure, you should talk to your doctor about which one of these options is right for you.

The most common calcium channel blockers are:

    • Amlodipine

    • Felodipine

    • Nicardipine

    • Diltiazem

7. Cholesterol-Lowering Medications

High cholesterol levels, especially LDL cholesterol, can lead to problematic health issues, including heart attack, stroke, and obesity. Moreover, high cholesterol causes plaque formation on the interior walls of your arteries, making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood. 

In addition, these plaque deposits are perfect spots for blood cells to collect and become clots.

Cholesterol medication and supplements have been around for decades and they’re very effective in reducing bad LDL cholesterol levels and improving good HDL cholesterol levels. Not to mention, it helps lower the plaque buildup in your arteries and reduces your risk of succumbing to coronary artery disease.

The most common Cholesterol-Lowering medications are:

    • Lovastatin

    • Atorvastatin

    • Simvastatin

    • Pravastatin

 

8. Digitalis Medication

Digitalis, or digoxin, is a relatively new heart medication used in treating abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) and heart failure. It can also treat heart pain (angina) immediately following a heart attack or stent. Digitalis adds calcium into the muscle cells of your heart, sending it into overdrive, beating faster and pumping more blood.

Digitalis treats abnormal heart rhythms by modifying and slowing the signals within the heart.

When properly slowed, the signals between the brain and heart become clearer; this significantly decreases irregular heartbeat issues. Along with starting digitalis, your doctor may start you on diuretics and ACE inhibitors.

 

9. Nitrates

Nitrates dilate your blood vessels, which allows more blood to be pumped through your body than usually occurs. Nitrates are particularly well-suited for relieving the symptoms of angina (chest pain) and heart failure

The most common nitrates are:

    • Nitroglycerin

    • Nitroprusside

    • Isosorbide dinitrate

    • Isosorbide mononitrate


Speak With Your Cardiologist About Your Heart Health

We've covered the most common medications for heart disease, so maybe it's time you take the next step toward heart health and schedule a talk with your cardiologist.

After all, cardiovascular disease isn't going to wait on you, so you need to be ready for it when it strikes. Heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide, but that doesn't mean you have to be a victim.

Robert C. Fisher

Robert C. Fisher is a Nurse Director at a large medical center in Boston, MA, and holds a Master’s in Nursing Leadership and Administration and an MBA in Healthcare Management.

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