Medication can be an effective tool in treating myocardial infarction, otherwise known as heart attack, and in preventing future attacks. Different types of medication work in different ways to meet these goals. They help lower high blood pressure, prevent clots from forming in your blood vessels, and dissolve clots if they do form.
Beta-blockers are often considered standard treatment after a heart attack. Beta-blockers are a class of medications used to treat high blood pressure, chest pain, and abnormal heart rhythm. They block the effects of adrenaline, which makes it easier for your heart to do its job. By decreasing the speed and force of your heartbeat, these drugs help lower your blood pressure. As a result, beta-blockers relieve chest pain and improve blood flow after a heart attack.
Some examples of beta-blockers for people who’ve had a heart attack include:
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors also treat high blood pressure and other conditions, such as heart failure and heart attack. They block, or inhibit, the production of an enzyme that causes your vessels to narrow. ACE inhibitors can help improve your blood flow by relaxing and widening your blood vessels.
Improved blood flow can help reduce heart strain and further damage after a heart attack. ACE inhibitors may even help reverse structural changes to the heart caused by long-term high blood pressure. This can help your heart work better in spite of the damaged muscle segments caused by a heart attack.
Examples of ACE inhibitors include:
Antiplatelet agents prevent clotting in your arteries by keeping blood platelets from sticking together, which is usually the first step in blood clot formation.
Antiplatelet agents are typically used by people who have had a heart attack and are at risk for additional clotting. They can also be used to treat people with several risk factors for heart attack. People who have had a heart attack and used thrombolytic medication to dissolve a clot or people who’ve had blood flow restored to their heart through catheterization are likely prescribed antiplatelets.
Aspirin is the most well-known type of antiplatelet medicine. Besides aspirin, antiplatelet agents include:
- clopidogrel (Plavix)
- ticlopidine (Ticlid)
- eptafibitide (Integrilin)
Anticoagulant drugs reduce the risk of clotting in people who have had heart attacks. Unlike antiplatelets, they work by affecting the coagulation factors that are also involved in the blood clotting process. Examples of anticoagulants include:
Thrombolytic drugs are also called “clot busters,” and they’re used immediately after a heart attack. They’re used when angioplasty can’t be done to widen the blood vessel and improve blood flow to the heart.
A thrombolytic is given in a hospital through an intravenous (IV) tube. It works by quickly dissolving any major clots in the arteries and restoring blood flow to your heart. If blood flow does not return to normal after the first treatment, additional treatments with thrombolytic drugs or surgery may be required.
Examples of thrombolytic medications include:
- alteplase (Activase)
- streptokinase (Streptase)
- tissue plasminogen activator
- urokinase (Kinlytic)
Talk to your doctor
There are many types of medications that can help treat heart attacks and prevent them from happening again. They work differently to help reduce your risk factors and improve your heart’s function. If you have had a heart attack, your doctor will talk to you about the specific medications that can help you recover and prevent additional attacks.