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The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women

Medications

To control or prevent heart disease, you may need to take medicine. Medications may be used to treat a risk factor, such as high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, or relieve the chest pain that often accompanies heart disease. If you do take medicine, it's important to keep up your heart healthy lifestyle, because healthy daily habits will keep your dose of medicine as low as possible. Medications that are commonly prescribed for people with heart disease include the following:

  • ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors stop the body from producing a chemical that narrows blood vessels. They are used to treat high blood pressure and damaged heart muscle.ACE inhibitors may reduce the risks of a future heart attack and heart failure. They also can prevent kidney damage in some people with diabetes.

  • Anticoagulants decrease the ability of the blood to clot, and therefore help to prevent clots from forming in your arteries and blocking blood flow. (These medicines are sometimes called "blood thinners," though they do not actually thin the blood.) Anticoagulants will not dissolve clots that have already formed, but these medicines may prevent the clots from becoming larger and causing more serious problems.

  • Antiplatelets are medications that stop blood particles called platelets from clumping together to form harmful clots. These medications may be given to people who have had a heart attack, who have angina, or who experience chest pain after an angioplasty procedure. Aspirin is one type of antiplatelet medicine. (See "Aspirin: Take With Caution")

  • Beta blockers slow the heart and allow it to beat with less force. They are used to treat high blood pressure and some arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) and to prevent a repeat heart attack. They can also delay or prevent the development of angina.

  • Calcium-channel blockers relax blood vessels. They are used to treat high blood pressure, angina, and some arrhythmias.

  • Digitalis makes the heart contract harder and is used when the heart can't pump strongly enough on its own. It also slows down some fast heart rhythms.

  • Diuretics (water pills) decrease fluid in the body and are very effective in treating high blood pressure. New research suggests that diuretics also can help to prevent stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. For those who already have heart failure, diuretics can help to reduce fluid buildup in the lungs and swelling in the feet and ankles.

  • Nitrates relax blood vessels and relieve chest pain. Nitrates indifferent forms can be used to relieve the pain of an angina attack, to prevent an expected episode, or to reduce the number of attacks that occur by using the medicine regularly on a long-term basis. The most commonly used nitrate for angina is nitroglycerin.

  • Menopausal hormone therapy was once thought to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke for women with heart disease. But research now shows that women with heart disease should not take it. Menopausal hormone therapy can involve the use of estrogen alone or estrogen plus progestin. For women with heart disease, estrogen alone will not prevent heart attacks, and estrogen plus progestin increases the risk for heart attack during the first few years of use. Estrogen plus progestin also increases the risk for blood clots, stroke, and breast cancer.

Table of Contents Next: Special Procedures

Last Updated: February 29, 2012

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