Medications for Coronary Artery Disease
In recent years, better medications have made it easier to take care of coronary artery disease. Medications such as beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and statins, have helped many people stay healthy and avoid heart attacks.
Aspirin is the most common medication prescribed by doctors for people with coronary artery disease. Aspirin helps prevent heart attacks in people with coronary artery disease. Taking aspirin once a day helps make platelets less sticky. When platelets stick together to form a plug, they cause blockages in the arteries which decrease blood flow the heart and cause heart attacks.
Beta-blockers are among the most commonly used drugs for controlling high blood pressure and improving blood flow to the heart. They slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and decrease the amount of work the heart must do. When the heart works more efficiently, it needs less oxygen from your blood. By lowering the heart's oxygen needs, beta-blockers may help prevent or relieve poor blood flow, which is an important factor in heart attacks.
Beta-blockers can cause side effects such as decreased sexual ability and fatigue in some people. People with asthma, heart failure, or diabetes should be cautious about taking them because they can worsen these conditions. Certain, more selective beta-blockers, however, are less likely to cause these side effects.
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are used to lower blood pressure and make it easier for the heart to pump blood. These drugs work by blocking a hormone called angiotensin II, which makes the blood pressure higher, among other effects. ACE inhibitors can be particularly useful if the heart muscle has suffered damage from coronary heart disease.
The most common side effect of taking an ACE inhibitor is a dry, hacking cough. Changing the dose or changing to a different medication often helps the cough go away. Other side effects include low blood pressure and kidney problems.
Statins are the most frequently prescribed type of cholesterol-lowering drugs. They block a key liver enzyme involved in making cholesterol. This helps reduce the amount of cholesterol that can be deposited into the blood. This allows more LDL, or "bad," cholesterol to be removed from the blood. Dietary changes are also important to help lower cholesterol, however, statins have other beneficial effects in addition to lowering cholesterol. Studies have shown that people who use statins, even if their cholesterol level is fine, have a reduced risk for heart attack, stroke, chest pain, and death from a heart-related condition.
Statins have few known side effects, but in rare cases they can damage the liver and muscles, so it is important to take only recommended doses. Statins can also make people drowsy, constipated, or nauseous, although these side effects are uncommon. One plus is that these drugs do not appear to interfere with the other medications that people with heart disease often take. And they require only a single daily dose.
Talk with your health care provider if you have questions about any of these medications.
- Foster, Sarah, RN, MPH
- MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician