Heart Medications Archive


The state of statin prescribing: Location matters

Research we're watching

If you've had a heart attack, national guidelines strongly recommend taking a high-intensity statin to prevent a second heart attack. But a study of Medicare recipients finds that where you live may affect your chances of receiving a statin prescription.

People living in New England were most likely to receive a high-intensity statin (74%), while those from the West South Central states (such as Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana) were the least likely (41%). The data came from nearly 140,000 people ages 66 and older who were hospitalized for a heart attack from 2011 to 2015. The findings were published online July 24 by JAMA Cardiology.

Managing atrial fibrillation: An update

New guidelines provide advice on the role of drugs, weight loss, and procedures to cope with this common heart rhythm disorder.

The classic symptom of atrial fibrillation — a fluttering or thumping sensation in the chest — can leave you breathless, dizzy, and tired. Caused by electrical misfires in the heart's upper chambers (atria), this condition affects an estimated one in 11 people ages 65 and older.

While the symptoms of atrial fibrillation (often called afib) can be unsettling, the real danger is a heightened risk of serious strokes (see "How afib can lead to a stroke"). As many as 30% of strokes from afib prove fatal, notes Dr. Christian Ruff, a cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

New nasal spray may stop rapid heart rhythm

Research we're watching

An experimental nasal spray shows promise for quickly treating an abnormally fast heart rhythm known as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), a new study reports.

Caused by an electrical misfire that overrides the heart's natural pacemaker, SVT occurs unpredictably, lasting anywhere from minutes to hours. Although usually harmless, the condition can make people dizzy or lightheaded. People with persistent SVT usually need to go to an emergency room for an injection of a drug to slow the heart.

Ask the doctor: Should I continue aspirin therapy if I do not have heart problems?

Aspirin therapy can help prevent a second heart attack and stroke, but for otherwise healthy older men, its use depends on their 10-year risk for a heart attack or stroke as determined by their doctor. 

Diuretic blood pressure drug linked to fewer hip fractures

In a large, long-term clinical trial, people taking the diuretic chlorthalidone had significantly fewer hip fractures than those taking the calcium-channel blocker amlodipine or the ACE inhibitor lisinopril.

Afib stroke prevention: Go set a Watchman?

Most people with atrial fibrillation take anti-clotting drugs to prevent strokes. For those who cannot take these drugs because of a high risk of bleeding, a tiny, basket-like device implanted in the part of the heart that traps clots may be an alternative. 

Are some painkillers safer for your heart than others?

Despite new research, the answer is unclear. Use caution when taking any pain medication on a routine basis.

Image: iStock

People with aching joints from arthritis—which affects nearly one in four adults—often rely on drugs known as NSAIDs to ease the pain of this often-debilitating condition. These popular medications also relieve headaches, cool fevers, and dampen inflammation. But with the exception of aspirin, most NSAIDs pose a risk to the cardiovascular system, notes Harvard professor Dr. Elliott Antman, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"Taking NSAIDs routinely over a long time period can raise the risk of blood clots, increase blood pressure, and accelerate cardiovascular disease," says Dr. Antman. While the danger is greatest in people with heart disease, it's also present in people without any signs of the disease.

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.

Is my medication causing these side effects, or is it just aging?

Tracking your progress and symptoms can help you discern the difference.

Image: YakobchukOlena/Thinkstock

You probably know that when you take a medication, you need to tell your doctor about any side effects that develop. But being aware of side effects can be challenging when you're older. "In many cases, the signs of aging are similar to side effects of medications," says Joanne Doyle Petrongolo, a pharmacist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.


What you should do

To determine if your symptoms are drug side effects or signs of aging, Doyle Petrongolo recommends keeping good records of your health issues and medication changes. "Keep a chart or a log of all medications taken, and record the medication start date. If a side effect is noted within a few days or weeks of starting a medication, then it is more likely that the symptom is medication-related," she explains.

It may be weeks or months before a symptom develops, but don't wait too long to report a symptom, especially if it interferes with your daily activity. "If it lingers for several weeks, then it is a good idea to speak with a doctor or pharmacist to determine the cause," says Doyle Petrongolo.

The fix

Does it matter how you lower your cholesterol?

Certain cholesterol-lowering medications—namely, ezetimibe (Zetia) and drugs known as bile acid binders—also appear to be effective at lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of serious cardiovascular events. 

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