What are the Most Common Heart Medications?

7 types of drugs for treating heart disease

A patient takes heart medications to manage her condition.

7 types of drugs for treating heart disease

If you recently had a heart attack or been diagnosed with a heart disease, you may have been prescribed some medications. It’s important to understand what these medications do, how to take them correctly and recognize any possible side effects.


Remember your doctor and pharmacist are the best people to ask about your medications.


“The sheer variety of heart medications available can be overwhelming, especially if you have not had to take any previously,” says Todd Hitchcock, MD, a cardiologist at Scripps Clinic Carmel Valley. “It can be helpful and reassuring to understand why you need certain medications and how they work.”


Doctors prescribe heart medications to treat various heart conditions. They can help manage symptoms and lower the risk of heart attacks, heart failure and strokes. Heart patients receive medication based on their diagnosis, other health conditions, age and lifestyle.


“Always make sure you know how to take your medications correctly and understand all of the risks, benefits and possible side effects,” notes Dr. Hitchcock. “Be sure to ask your doctor whether you should avoid any foods, other prescriptions, or over-the-counter drugs or supplements that may cause adverse interactions.”

Seven common heart medications

1.   Anticoagulants to prevent blood clots

Blood clots can block blood flow in arteries leading to heart attacks or strokes. Anticoagulants and antiplatelets are medications, also known as blood thinners, that help treat and prevent clots.

These drugs help prevent strokes, heart attacks and other clot problems. People with artificial heart valves or irregular heartbeats also take them.

Anticoagulants stop blood from clotting in different ways. The most common include warfarin, rivaroxaban, dabigatran and apixaban.

2.   Antiplatelets (aspirin) to prevent blood clots

Antiplatelet drugs work by stopping platelets from sticking together. Platelets are essential for healing, but when they form in the wrong place, it can lead to serious problems like strokes.


Aspirin is the most common antiplatelet agent given to prevent blood clots. At a low dose, aspirin reduces inflammation in the arteries.


Doctors may prescribe daily low-dose aspirin for patients who have had a heart attack, stent, stroke or valve replacement and to lower the risk of getting heart disease.

Always talk to your doctor before taking aspirin daily. Risks and benefits differ for each person.


Sometimes, doctors may prescribe another antiplatelet medication in addition to aspirin. This is called dual antiplatelet therapy. Your doctor will tell you how long to take the additional antiplatelet medication. In most cases, it is not lifelong. Common forms of these drugs include clopidogrel (Plavix), tigagrelor (Brilinta), and prasugrel (Effient).

3.   ACE inhibitors or ARBs for high blood pressure and other conditions

Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) dilate or widen blood vessels. This helps improve the flow of blood, eases the demands on the heart and lowers blood pressure.


These drugs are often given for high blood pressure and heart failure. They help decrease the risk of heart attack or stroke in people with heart disease. When given after a heart attack, they help prevent heart damage and future heart attacks.

4.   Antiarrhythmics to treat arrythmias

Antiarrhythmic drugs treat heart rhythm issues, also known as arrythmias. These drugs can be used alone or with procedures like ablation or pacemakers.

People with arrythmias may have hearts that beat too quickly, too slowly, or irregularly. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type. Antiarrhythmic drugs help regulate the heart’s electrical activity so that the heart beats normally.

5.   Beta blockers to help your heart work better

Beta blockers as are often prescribed after a heart attack to help the heart recover. They minimize the effects of harmful substances produced as a result of heart failure. Some can also help improve the heart’s ability to pump blood. Others may be given to treat high blood pressure, angina and abnormal heart rhythms.


Common beta blockers include carvedilol (Coreg), nebivolol (Bystolic), and metoprolol (Toprol).

6.   Calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure and other conditions

Calcium channel blockers decrease the heart’s workload by increasing its supply of blood and oxygen. They do this by preventing calcium from entering the cells of the heart and arteries. They can help treat high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms and angina.


They are often given to people who cannot take beta blockers and include verapamil (Verelan) and diltiazem (Cardizem).

7.   Cholesterol lowering medications (statins)

High levels of bad cholesterol can lead to plaque build-up in arteries, which is dangerous. Statins lower “bad” cholesterol in the blood. They can also lower triglyceride levels, another type of fat in the blood.


Statins decrease bad cholesterol production in the liver and inflammation in cholesterol plaques. Common statins include atorvastatin (Lipitor) and rosuvastatin (Crestor).

Patients who cannot take statins or have side effects may receive other drugs to lower cholesterol levels.

Managing medications

Remember to take your heart medicine as directed and refill your prescription before it runs out. If you are helping someone with a heart condition, it’s crucial to help them stay on top of their medication.

Here are some tips to help you manage your medications:

  • Follow the instructions for taking your medication.
  • Keep your medication organized.
  • Take your medicine even if you don’t feel any symptoms.
  • Keep taking medicine even if you start feeling better.
  • Inform your doctor or pharmacist about all the medications you are taking.
  • Let your doctor or pharmacist know about any supplements or over-the-counter drugs you are using.
  • Be cautious of any interactions with food.
  • Watch out for any potential side effects.

If you have questions about your medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist for information instead of relying on other sources.

“Unfortunately, there is a lot of inaccurate information and misunderstanding regarding medications on the internet,” says Dr. Hitchcock. “Your clinician can be a trusted resource of information and discuss the intended indications and benefits of your treatment plan, which should always include living as healthy a lifestyle as possible.”

Heart medications: just one part of treatment plan

Your treatment plan for heart health involves more than just taking medication. It also includes adopting or maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a heart-healthy diet, avoiding smoking and staying physically active.

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