Heart Medications

For a description of each type of cardiovascular medicine, click on the links below:

Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers are used to treat high blood pressure. These medicines block angiotensin II, an enzyme that constricts blood vessels. When blood vessels are relaxed, blood pressure is lower.

• Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors block an enzyme that causes blood vessels to constrict. When blood vessels are relaxed, blood pressure is lower. Further, ACE inhibitors can decrease the amount of salt and water in the body, which also lowers blood pressure.

• Antiarrhythmic medicines act on the electrical impulses in the heart so that it can resume its normal rhythm and conduction patterns. The different ways these medicines work are to slow electrical conduction in the heart, to block the impulses that may cause the irregular rhythm and interfere with hormonal influences (such as adrenaline) on the heart’s cells, to  reduce blood pressure and heart rate, or to slow the electrical impulses in the heart.

• Aspirin reduces the substances in the body that cause pain, fever, inflammation, and blood clots.

• Beta Blockers slow the heart rate, decrease cardiac output, lessen the force with which the heart muscle contracts, and reduce blood vessel contraction. They do this by blocking the effects of adrenaline on beta-adrenergic receptors in various parts of the body.

• Blood Thinning Medicines are an anti-clotting type of medicine called an anticoagulant. These medicines do not thin the blood; they decrease its ability to clot. Decreased clotting prevents blood clots from forming and blocking blood vessels. Oral anticoagulants come in a pill form that is swallowed.

• Calcium Channel Blockers decrease the heart’s pumping strength and relax blood vessels by blocking the channels that allow calcium to move in and out of the heart muscle and blood vessels. The medicine becomes an obstacle that decreases the rate in which calcium moves. This mechanism relaxes the blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.

• Cholesterol-lowering Medicines work in several different ways:
Statins block an enzyme that helps make cholesterol.
Bile acid sequestrants (or resins) bind to bile, an acid used in the digestive process.
Nicotinic acid slows the production of the components that make LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
Fibric acid derivatives lower triglyceride levels.
Cholesterol absorption inhibitors lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.

• Digitalis Medicines strengthen the force of the heartbeat by increasing the amount of calcium in the heart’s muscle cells. (Calcium stimulates the heartbeat.) Digitalis binds to the sodium and potassium receptors in the heart muscle, which prevents the calcium from leaving the cells. As calcium builds up, it causes a stronger heartbeat. Digitalis medicines control arrhythmias by slowing the signals that start in the sinoatrial node and travel through the atrioventricular node. Fewer signals mean fewer arrhythmias.

Diuretics lower the amount of salt and water in the body, which helps lower blood pressure. Excess fluid causes high blood pressure, and it causes fluid to accumulate in the lungs and the lower extremities.

• Nitrates dilate the blood vessels to improve blood flow and allow more blood to reach the heart muscle. Nitrates also relax the veins. If less blood is returning to the heart from the arms and legs, it eases the workload on the heart. Nitrates reduce chest pain, but they do not cure its underlying cause.

Two different types of medicines are often combined into a “combination” medicine. An example of this would be an ACE inhibitor combined with a diuretic.

For More Information
A consumer-based website created by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists that provides information about all types of medicines as well as safety tips for their proper use. The site’s search feature lets users search medicines by the brand or generic name.