When You’re Taking Heart Medicines
Millions of people take some kind of heart medicine. Some people need several different medicines to strengthen their heart, lower cholesterol, prevent blood clots, or stabilize heart rhythms. These medicines can be life giving—and powerful. Even a small drop in your blood pressure reading can cut your risk of having a heart attack.
At the same time, taking these medicines the wrong way or stopping them without first talking with your healthcare provider could be dangerous. It could even be fatal.
The American Heart Association (AHA) offers the following advice.
Keep a current list of all your medicines
Keep a list of the medicines you take. This will help you stay on top of what you need to take and when. It’s also important information to share with every healthcare provider. Sharing this information will help make sure your care is managed safely and correctly.
Some people keep a list of their medicines on a computer so they can easily update it. You may also keep it on your smart phone. Record the name of the medicine, the dose, and the medicine’s purpose. For example, it's for heart rhythm or blood pressure. Keep a copy of this list in your wallet or purse. That way you will always have it with you for doctors' appointments or in an emergency.
Make medicines part of your routine
Think about what’s easiest for you to remember. Taking your medicines every evening before brushing your teeth? Every morning with breakfast? Follow any medicine instructions. Statins are medicines that lower cholesterol. Some statins often work better taken before bed. This is because your body tends to make more cholesterol at night. Many people use a pill box with days of the week divided by times of day. This is very helpful if you take a lot of medicine. Some heart medicines can be dangerous if accidentally doubled or missed. A pill box can make keeping track a lot easier.
Talk with your healthcare provider first
Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before taking any new medicine. This might be a prescription or over-the-counter medicine. Or it might be a dietary supplement or an herbal product. Medicine interactions can cause many problems. Often they can be serious.
If you take the blood-thinner warfarin, for instance, using a medicine or other product that also thins your blood could put you at risk for a life-threatening stroke or internal bleeding.
Over-the-counter medicines can be especially hazardous:
Decongestants that contain ephedrine can raise your blood pressure and cause heart rhythm problems.
Migraine headache medicines can raise blood pressure. They can even bring on a heart attack in people with advanced heart disease.
Weight-loss medicines may contain ephedrine. This medicine can increase blood pressure and heart rate. It can also causes heart rhythm problems.
Stick with a single pharmacy
Many pharmacists rely on a computer system that cross-checks of all your medicines with each new prescription. It automatically warns of possible medicine interactions. But if you buy a medicine elsewhere, it won’t show up in the system.
Don’t stop taking a medicine
Never stop taking a medicine without your healthcare provider’s OK. If price is an issue, ask your healthcare provider if there’s a lower-cost alternative.
If you suddenly stop taking beta-blockers, your heart rate and blood pressure can go up in the short term from a withdrawal effect. If you stop taking a medicine that keeps your heart rhythm stable or prevents blood clots, you could suffer a heart attack.
For the same reasons, never delay refilling a prescription.
Have the medical tests your healthcare provider recommends
Regular blood pressure checks can let you know if your medicine needs to be changed.
Be alert to side effects
Call your healthcare provider right away if you think you are having a side effect. He or she may be able to prescribe another medicine that can do just as good a job without the side effect. Call 911 iIf you have signs of a severe allergic reaction. These include trouble breathing, a new rash, a lot of swelling, or a lot of itching.
Get in the habit of measuring your blood pressure and heart rate on a regular basis. Many heart medicines can affect these vital signs. You may need to contact your provider if your blood pressure or heart rate is too high or too low. Diuretics help your body get rid of etra fluid. If you take this type of medicine, weigh yourself every day.
Above all, don’t let worries over the risks of these medicines keep you from taking them.
Heart medicine resources
A printable medicine chart to help you keep track of your medicines is available at the AHA website. Search for “medication chart.”
Many resources on the wise use of prescription and other medicines is available at the National Council on Patient Information and Education's website.