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Medications

When heart-healthy lifestyle changes don't sufficiently reduce risk factors of coronary artery disease, or CAD, prescription medications may be necessary to lower blood cholesterol, blood pressure, or both. Other medications may be prescribed in order to:

  • Decrease the chance of a heart attack or dying suddenly
  • Prevent blood clots, which can lead to heart attack or stroke
  • Prevent or delay the need for a medical procedure or surgery
  • Reduce the heart's workload and relieve CAD symptoms

Patients who are prescribed medication for CAD should continue to follow a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Aspirin helps to prevent blood clots from forming inside narrowed coronary arteries. It reduces the risk of heart attack in people who have coronary artery disease. People who have a bleeding disorder or a recent history of stomach or intestinal bleeding should not use aspirin.

Common side effects of aspirin may include:

  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Drowsiness
  • Mild headache

If you have any problems that you feel are medication-related, please consult your healthcare provider.

Beta blockers decrease the heart's workload by slowing the heart rate. They also reduce the force of heart muscle contractions, especially during exercise. In addition to preventing heart attack, they may be used to relieve chest pain and discomfort and to treat arrhythmias.

Call your provider if you experience any of the following:

  • Very slow heartbeats
  • A light-headed feeling
  • Shortness of breath, even with mild exertion
  • Swelling or rapid weight gain
  • Cold feeling in the hands and feet

Common side effects of beta blockers prescribed for coronary artery disease include:

  • Dizziness and fatigue
  • Confusion and memory problems
  • Nightmares or trouble sleeping
  • Diarrhea
  • Mild itching or rash

If you have any problems that you feel are medication-related, please consult your healthcare provider.

Angiotensin-converting enzyme, or ACE, inhibitors stop the production of a chemical, known as angiotensin II, which makes blood vessels narrow and leads to high blood pressure. By blocking the production of this chemical, ACE inhibitors help control high blood pressure and allow any damaged heart muscle to heal properly. They're typically prescribed after a heart attack to help the healing process and allow the heart to pump blood more efficiently. They're also routinely used for people with heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to supply the body's needs.

Call your provider if you experience any of the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Extreme weakness
  • Fever, chills, or sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Numbness in the hands or feet
  • Skin rash, severe itching, or hives
  • Swelling of the face, mouth, hands, or feet
  • Joint pain
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin
  • Dry or continuing cough
  • Headache
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, or tiredness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Loss of taste

If you have any problems that you feel are medication-related, please consult your healthcare provider.

The name of these medications comes from an enzyme known as HMG CoA Reductase. This enzyme regulates an early step in the process of making cholesterol in the liver. Statins block this step, leading to a decrease in the LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Statins also increase the HDL cholesterol by about five to 10 percent.

This class of medications is the most widely studied of all cholesterol modifying medications, both in patients with and without cardiovascular disease. Statin use can reduce heart attacks and strokes. Because statins work in the liver, your healthcare provider may routinely monitor liver function studies while you are on these medications.

Side effects are usually mild. Some people may experience:

  • Rash or flushing, which is redness or warmth of the face
  • Sleep problems
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness

A rare-but-serious side effect is liver damage. Symptoms of liver damage include:

  • Yellow skin or eyes
  • Dark urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite

It's possible your blood glucose level may increase when you take a statin, which may lead to developing type 2 diabetes. The risk is small, but talk to your healthcare provider if you have concerns.

Some people develop memory loss or confusion while taking statins. These side effects reverse once you stop taking the medication. Contact your provider if you experience memory loss or confusion.

Skeletal muscle problems have been reported with this class of medications, though they occur rarely. Generally, statins are well-tolerated.

If you have any problems that you feel are related to your medication, please consult your healthcare provider.

Angiotensin receptor blockers, or ARBs, are medicines that dilate, or widen, blood vessels. ARBs work by preventing a natural chemical, called angiotensin II, from binding to receptors located in muscles surrounding blood vessels. Angiotensin II makes blood vessels constrict, or narrow. When angiotensin II can't bind to a receptor, the blood vessels are able to dilate, thereby reducing blood pressure.

Possible side effects include:

  • Cold symptoms, such as stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, or cough
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea, stomach pain, or diarrhea
  • Headache or dizziness
  • Fatigue

If you have any problems that you feel are medication-related, please consult your healthcare provider.

Calcium channel blockers inhibit the flow of calcium ions across the membranes of smooth muscle cells of the heart and blood vessels. By reducing the calcium flow, smooth muscles relax and your blood pressure goes down.

Possible side effects include:

  • Chest pain
  • Fast, slow, irregular, or pounding heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Skin rash
  • Flushing
  • Dizziness
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Swelling of lower extremities

If you have any problems that you feel are medication-related, please consult your healthcare provider.

Nitrates, which are vasodilators, work by causing the muscles in the wall of the blood vessels to relax. When relaxed, the vessels widen and cause your blood pressure to go down.

Call your provider if you experience any of the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Skin rash, blisters, severe itching, or hives
  • Fever, chills, or sore throat
  • Unusual bruising or bleeding
  • Joint pain
  • Swelling of the feet, hands, or ankles
  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Appetite loss, nausea, or vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Stuffy nose or watery eyes
  • Facial redness