Drugs

There are dozens and dozens of medications used to treat various types of heart disease. Below is a list of some common medications and classifications of medications that your doctor may prescribe if you have heart problems such as arrhythmia, chest pain, heart failure, or other cardiac issues.

ACE Inhibitors

ACE stands for “angiotensin-converting enzyme.” These medications help the heart work more efficiently by improving blood flow. They’re often prescribed for people with heart failure and high blood pressure, along with diabetes.

ARBs

ARBs, or angiotensin-II receptor blockers (or antagonists), are used for high blood pressure and heart failure. Like ACE inhibitors, they help the heart work more efficiently by impacting angiotensin II levels in the bloodstream. However, unlike ACE inhibitors, they don’t lower the levels of this chemical. Instead, they block it from being accepted by certain receptors, thereby decreasing its impact on the heart.

Antiarrhythmics

These medications are prescribed for arrhythmias, or conditions that make the heart beat irregularly, whether too fast, too slow, or with an irregular pattern. There are four categories, or classes, of these medications, which include sodium channel blockers (Class I), beta blockers (Class II), potassium channel blockers (Class III) and calcium channel blockers (Class IV). It’s important to remember that these drugs can prevent, but not cure, abnormal heart rhythms, so your physician may ask you to take them long-term. 

Anticoagulants/Blood Thinners

Commonly called “blood thinners,” these medications are often prescribed for people who are at risk of blood clots. While they can’t get rid of existing clots, they’re frequently recommended for people who have suffered a stroke (which can be caused by blood clots) in order to prevent new clots from forming. They may also prevent existing clots from growing.

Antiplatelet Drugs

These medications, which include aspirin, prevent blood clots by keeping platelets—small cell fragments that help your blood clot—from sticking together. If you have some signs of plaque build-up (or atherosclerosis), but not a complete blockage, antiplatelet drugs are often prescribed to prevent future blockages.

Beta Blockers

Beta blockers are a form of medication that lowers blood pressure by blocking the effects of adrenaline on the heart. This causes the heart to beat more slowly and less forcefully. It also encourages blood to flow freely through the blood vessels. Along with high blood pressure, beta blockers can be used to treat glaucoma and migraines.

Beta blockers can be selective or non-selective. Basically, your body has two types of beta receptors: beta 1 and beta 2. While some beta blockers block beta-1 receptors, nonselective beta blockers block the uptake of adrenaline to both receptors.

Calcium Channel Blockers

Used to treat high blood pressure, calcium channel blockers, which are also known as calcium antagonists, relax blood vessels. Because relaxed blood vessels can help decrease chest pain (angina), as well as preventing arrhythmias, calcium channel blockers are also used to treat these conditions. This medication blocks calcium from entering heart cells, which, in turn, lowers blood pressure.

Clot Busters

As their name suggests, clot busters are used to break apart blood clots. Also known as thrombolytics, these medications can prevent dangerous blockages in the heart by getting rid of blood clots. Emergency physicians often use clot busters for patients who are in the process of having a heart attack. Because clots are also a cause of stroke, thrombolytics can be used to treat this condition as well.

Diuretics

Sometimes called “water pills,” diuretics help the body shed excess fluid through urine. For people with heart disease, this can lower the workload on the heart and help reduce blood pressure, as well as reduce swelling in the lower extremities.

Inotropic Medications

In the past, inotropic drugs were frequently used for heart failure patients. Although these medications typically do not prolong life, they can offer some relief of symptoms especially for patients with more severe symptoms. The medications work by increasing the strength of each heart beat, which can lessen the severity of irregular heart rhythms, or arrhythmias.

Digoxin is one of the most common inotropic drugs. By increasing the force of each beat of the heart, digoxin, which is a form of digitalis, helps the heart beat more efficiently and, therefore, can lower your heart rate.

In other words, when your heart is beating more strongly, it can circulate blood throughout your body more efficiently, so it doesn't need to beat as many times per minute to accomplish its normal tasks.

Vasodilators

Vasodilators, which include nitrates, are medications that dilate blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely. In general, vasodilators are used to increase blood flow and help oxygenated blood circulate throughout the body. This can improve health conditions like chest pain. Nitrates come in three forms: pills, topical treatments or patches, and aerosols that are sprayed under the tongue.