Save 75% - Only $49.99 for 1 full year! digitalPLUS subscription offer ends 12/1

Just "Take a Pill"?

Pharmaceutical IndustryDiseases and IllnessesHeart Disease

If you've been diagnosed with a heart disease, be prepared to learn a new language: it's called "pharmaceutical speak." Generally speaking, treating most heart ailments involves taking many medications. And with any medication, even the over-the-counter variety, it's important to know the drug's purpose and any potential side effects.

Medication Matters

Obviously, your health-care team will supervise your treatment, but here's a look at some of the most common heart medications and what they do.

ACE inhibitors (angiotensin-converting-enzyme): One of the mainstays of heart disease treatment, ACE inhibitors have been proven to slow the progression of heart failure in countless studies. As a type of vasodilator, ACE inhibitors cause the blood vessels to expand, lowering blood pressure and reducing the heart's workload.Side effects: Persistent cough, weakness, dizziness, skin rashes, nausea, headaches and kidney problems. Some common generic names include captopril, lisinopril, fosinopril, moexipril and perindopril.

Beta-blockers: Reduce the heart's tendency to beat faster by blocking specific receptors (beta) on the cells that make up the heart, which allows the heart to maintain a slower rate and lower blood pressure. Beta-blockers are often used for mild to moderate heart failure and in combination with other medications.Side effects: Weakness, too-low blood pressure, dizziness, headaches and a worsening of asthma symptoms.Some common generic names include acebutolol, bisoprolol, metoprolol, propranolol and timolol.

Diuretics (also called water pills): Causes the kidneys to remove sodium and water from the bloodstream and converts it into urine, which helps to relieve the heart's workload because there is less fluid to pump throughout the body. It also decreases the buildup of fluid in the lungs and other parts of the body, such as the ankles and legs. Different diuretics remove fluid at varied rates and through different methods.Side effects: Low blood pressure, kidney complications and excessive loss of potassium and fluid.Some common generic names include bumetanide, chlorothiazide, furosemide and hydrochlorothiazide.

Vasodilators: These cause the blood vessel walls to widen or relax, which allows blood to flow more easily (see ACE inhibitor). People who can't tolerate an ACE inhibitor are often prescribed other types of vasodilators to relieve symptoms and improve their tolerance for exercise.

Side effects: Drop in blood pressure, fainting, dizziness, headaches, fast heartbeat, nausea and nasal congestion.Some common generic names include isosorbide dinitrate, nesiritide, hydralazine and minoxidil.

Blood thinners: A common treatment that is used to prevent blood clots from developing in the heart, lungs and legs. Clots can be carried into the blood vessels that supply the brain; if one gets stuck in a vessel, blood flow to the brain is cut off and a stroke results. Blood thinners, or anti-coagulants, prevent blood from clotting.Side effects: Nosebleeds, bleeding gums and easy bruising. Some common generic names are heparin and warfarin.

Calcium channel blockers: Calcium is essential to muscles of the heart, allowing them to contract. Calcium channel blockers interfere with calcium's role in the contraction of these muscles, which causes the muscles to relax. This lowers blood pressure and can improve the blood circulation in the heart.
Side effects: Headaches, nausea, low blood pressure, facial flushing, dizziness and ankle swelling.Common generic name is amlodipine.

For more information on heart disease and medications, visit's Heart Health page or the American Heart Association.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
Pharmaceutical IndustryDiseases and IllnessesHeart Disease