Heart Medications Archive

Articles

Genetic testing to tailor heart drug prescriptions?

Your genes affect how your body responds to many drugs. But pharmacogenomic testing still isn't ready for routine use.

Most genetic tests focus on your odds of developing certain diseases or health conditions. But some — known as pharmacogenomic (or pharmacogenetic) tests — can reveal how your body may respond and react to different medications. To date, researchers have identified more than 400 genetic variations known to affect the metabolism of numerous drugs, including some that help lower cholesterol or prevent blood clots (see "Pharmacogenomics of common heart drugs").

In theory, knowing how people metabolize specific drugs could help doctors choose the safest, most effective treatment for their patients. But in practice, it's not that straightforward, says Dr. Jason Vassy, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a primary care physician at the VA Boston Healthcare System.

What is bigeminy in a heartbeat?

Ask the doctor

Q. My aunt was having heart palpitations and recently found out that she has bigeminy. According to her doctor, it's not serious. But what exactly is this condition?

A. Bigeminy refers to a heartbeat marked by two beats close together with a pause following each pair of beats. The term comes from the Latin bigeminus, meaning double or paired (bi means two, geminus means twin).

Using Crestor — and all statins — safely

Some simple steps can help minimize or avoid muscle problems from Crestor and other cholesterol-lowering drugs.

All drugs have side effects. The trick is to weigh the potential for serious side effects against the gain you can get from the medication. The balance sheet for Crestor and other statins looks like this: These drugs cut the risk of heart attack, angina (chest pain), stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease by 30%. They cause muscle pain in under 5% of the people who take them, and these pains often stop by themselves even with continued statin use. The chance of rhabdomyolysis, a potentially deadly breakdown of muscle tissue, is less than one per million statin prescriptions.

Treating heart attacks: Changes from Eisenhower’s era to the present day

In the 1950s, doctors offered mainly morphine and bed rest — a far cry from the many procedures and medications provided today.

During a round of golf one autumn afternoon in 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower experienced what he assumed was indigestion. After he awoke at 2 a.m. the following morning with severe chest pain, his personal physician administered several shots of morphine. It wasn't until 1 p.m. that afternoon that an electrocardiogram revealed that the president had experienced a heart attack.

Cardiologist Dr. Thomas Lee, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, detailed Eisenhower's experience in the Oct. 29, 2020, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. His piece focuses mainly on how Eisenhower's cardiologist, Paul Dudley White, communicated the event to the public. As Dr. Lee wrote, "Heart attacks became less mysterious and frightening to millions of Americans that day."

What is a myocardial bridge?

Ask the doctor

Q. My 64-year-old brother had some transient chest pain while he was training for a cycling trip, so I urged him to see his doctor. Tests showed that he has a myocardial bridge. What does that mean?

A. The arteries that supply blood to the heart lie on the surface of the organ. But in some people, one of these arteries dives into the heart muscle and comes back out again, forming what's called a myocardial bridge. The bridge refers to the band of heart muscle (myocardium) that extends over that portion of the artery.

Atrial fibrillation: Shifting strategies for early treatment?

For people recently diagnosed, taming the heart's rhythm rather than slowing it down may be a better approach.

The heart rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation (afib) occurs when the heart's electrical system goes awry. Instead of the heart's natural pacemaker creating a steady beat, the heart's upper chambers (atria) pulsate rapidly — up to hundreds of times per minute. Most of the electrical impulses telling the lower chambers (ventricles) to contract don't get through but many do, triggering a racing, irregular heartbeat that can leave people dizzy, breathless, or fatigued.

Therapies to tackle this common arrhythmia have improved over the years. Now, new findings suggest it may be time to rethink the treatment for people newly diagnosed with afib (see "Afib: Rhythm vs. rate control").

3 supplements that may harm your heart

Labels on the bottles promise better health, but these supplements may wind up hurting you.

Keeping your heart healthy requires a combination of strategies, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress. Adding a dietary supplement may seem like another means of protection.

But be careful. Unlike prescription medications, supplements are often sold without evidence that they work or they're safe. There's no way to know what's really inside pills or potions, since the FDA doesn't evaluate whether the manufacture of supplements is high quality, such as whether the pills are free from impurities. The following supplements may pose heart risks.

Aspirin and your heart: Many questions, some answers

Taking an aspirin can protect you from heart attack, blood clots and more

First marketed by the Bayer Company in 1897, aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is one of our oldest modern medications — and its parent compound is much older still, since Hippocrates and the ancient Egyptians used willow bark, which contains salicylates, to treat fever and pain. Over the past 100 years, aspirin has made its way into nearly every medicine chest in America. Indeed, this old drug is still widely recommended to control fever, headaches, arthritis, and pain.

Although aspirin remains an excellent medication for fever and pain, other drugs can fill these roles equally well. But aspirin has a unique role that was not even suspected by its early advocates. In patients with coronary artery disease, aspirin prevents heart attacks.

Take nitroglycerin to ease-and avoid-a common heart disease symptom

Discovered more than 150 years ago, this drug comes in a variety of formulations. Does one make sense for you?

If your heart's arteries are choked with cholesterol-filled plaque, a sudden increase in the heart's demand for oxygen-rich blood from physical exertion or emotional stress can trigger the chest pain known as angina. But a tiny tablet of nitroglycerin often relieves the pain within minutes.

Nitroglycerin is underused

Nitroglycerin and related drugs, known as nitrates, widen the arteries that nourish the heart and reduce the heart's workload. Under-the-tongue (sublingual) nitro- glycerin tablets are perhaps the best-known version of this common medication. But nitrates come in a variety of different formulations (see "Nitrates for angina: Many choices").

Does aspirin stop a heart attack?

Ask the doctor

Q. Should I take aspirin if I think I'm having a heart attack, and what kind of aspirin should I take?

A. First, what symptoms indicate you might be having a heart attack? The main symptom is a squeezing, tight sensation in the middle of the chest that can travel up into the jaw and shoulders, and even down the left arm. Along with the pain you may begin to sweat and to feel weak, like you might pass out, and be short of breath. While other conditions besides a heart at-tack can cause similar symptoms, you need to take such symptoms very seriously. First, call 911.

Free Healthbeat Signup

Get the latest in health news delivered to your inbox!

Sign Up
Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Thanks for visiting. Don't miss your FREE gift.

The Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness, is yours absolutely FREE when you sign up to receive Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Sign up to get tips for living a healthy lifestyle, with ways to fight inflammation and improve cognitive health, plus the latest advances in preventative medicine, diet and exercise, pain relief, blood pressure and cholesterol management, and more.

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Get helpful tips and guidance for everything from fighting inflammation to finding the best diets for weight loss...from exercises to build a stronger core to advice on treating cataracts. PLUS, the latest news on medical advances and breakthroughs from Harvard Medical School experts.

BONUS! Sign up now and
get a FREE copy of the
Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Stay on top of latest health news from Harvard Medical School.

Plus, get a FREE copy of the Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness.