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Heart Disease

Heart Disease Medications

Most drugs to treat heart conditions and stroke adjust the working of the heart or circulation of the blood are taken orally as tablets or capsules to be swallowed, but they can come in the form of tablets held under the tongue, aerosols or patches. Drugs can also be administered directly into a vein or a muscle.

ACE inhibitors (angiotensin converting enzyme)

The drug, causing the arteries to dilate and leading to a fall in blood pressure, restricts levels of angiotensin, a chemical that narrows blood vessels. Side effects include a fall in blood pressure, especially when combined with diuretics for the first time.

Anti-arrhythmic drugs

Anti-arrhythmic drugs act to control disturbances of the heart's rhythm. Its side effects include headache, flushing, dizziness and stomach upsets.


Clots consist of small blood cells clumped together - platelets - and a protein called fibrin. Anticoagulants prevent fibrin forming, but may cause or aggravate bleeding. Regular blood tests are necessary to ensure clotting is within safe levels.

Aspirin (and other anti-platelet drugs)

Traditionally used as a painkiller, aspirin is also effective in preventing clotting of the blood, by reducing the "stickiness" of the platelets.


Beta-blockers control the speed and force of heartbeats. They are effective in preventing angina. They can also lower raised blood pressure, reduce the risk of further heart attacks and help control abnormal heart rhythms. Side effects include constriction of the air passages and small blood vessels, leading to cold hands and feet. They can conceal low blood sugar levels in diabetics - "selective" beta-blockers are less likely to do this than other forms of the drug. Tiredness or fatigue can also be experienced.

Calcium channel blockers (calcium antagonists)

Calcium antagonists reduce the amount of calcium entering the muscle cells of the arteries, causing them to relax. Side effects include flushing, headache, dizziness, fainting, swelling of the ankles and stomach and gastro-intestinal problems.

Cholesterol-lowering drugs (lipid-lowering drugs)

Statins are the main type of drug used to reduce cholesterol levels. Statins are not suitable for people who have liver disease or who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Two other forms of cholesterol-lowering drugs are available - fibrates and drugs which bind bile acids.


Diuretics, or "water tablets", increase the output of water and salt in the urine. They are effective in treating heart failure, where there is an excess of water and salt in the body, and in lowering high blood pressure. Diuretics can cause low potassium levels, and in diabetics, high blood sugar levels.


Nitrates relax the muscles in the walls of the veins and arteries and make them wider. They are useful for relieving angina pain and preventing predictable attacks. A throbbing headache can result when GTN tablets are first taken, but symptoms tend to fade with time.

Potassium channel activators

Potassium channel activators, a new type of drug for angina, have a similar effect to nitrates as they relax the walls of the coronary arteries and therefore improve blood flow.

"Clot-busters"- Thrombolytic drugs

Used only when there is an urgent need to dissolve a clot, usually after a heart attack, the most common form of the drug is streptokinase, which is given directly into a vein.

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