Heart Medications Archive


Drugs to prevent heart attacks may also lessen their severity

Medications such as aspirin, statins, ACE inhibitors, and beta blockers are prescribed to certain patients to lower the chance of a first or repeat heart attack. New research shows that they also may reduce the severity of attacks that do occur.

Reminder: Don't skip blood pressure medication

Millions of older adults aren’t taking their blood pressure drugs as directed. Ways to combat adherence problems include asking a doctor for less expensive drugs, understanding what a medication is for, and reporting side effects. 

Gene discoveries may pave the way for new blood pressure drugs

The discovery of 44 gene sites associated with high blood pressure may provide leads for developing new drugs to treat this common condition. 

Making sense of the statin guidelines

Image: rogerashford/ iStock

For years, doctors prescribed cholesterol-lowing statins based largely on cholesterol test results. The goal was to lower total cholesterol to under 200 mg/dL, and LDL (bad) cholesterol to under 100 mg/dL. But in late 2013, new guidelines on statin use issued by the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) proposed a major change to that strategy.

These guidelines shifted from a numbers-based approach to a risk-driven approach. Instead of aiming for a specific cholesterol value, doctors were urged to look at a person's entire cardiovascular risk profile when considering treatment. This is a reasonable approach that can help better define when to initiate drug therapy.

Preventing blood clots: Is warfarin still right for you?

Using warfarin effectively is challenging—perhaps even more so than doctors have realized.

 Image: arun011 /Thinkstock

For more than 60 years, warfarin has been a mainstay for people with atrial fibrillation. Used properly, warfarin may prevent as many as 60% of strokes related to this common heart rhythm disorder each year. But warfarin is notoriously tricky to manage because blood levels have to be kept within a narrow range to avoid side effects such as unwanted bleeding.

As a result, warfarin users must get frequent blood tests (see "What is an INR?") when they start the drug to fine-tune their dose. Once their INR values are consistently in the right range, most people scale back to testing every month or so. But a recent study suggests that people who take warfarin need to stay extra vigilant over the long term.

Many older adults take unneeded blood pressure drugs

About 66% of adults over age 70 still take antihypertensive medication even though they now have low pressures, says a study from the University of Kent in the United Kingdom. Researchers say this exposes adults to medication side effects like dizziness and falls. 

A warning about heartburn medications that contain aspirin

The FDA is warning that over-the-counter antacids with aspirin in them can cause stomach bleeding in rare cases. 

Daily aspirin for disease prevention: When do the benefits outweigh the risks?

A daily aspirin may help defend against heart disease, but it should still be used with caution.

Image: FlairImages/Thinkstock

Aspirin tablets have been a staple of home medicine cabinets and first-aid kits for nearly 100 years. Long before that, people chewed willow tree bark, which contains aspirin-like compounds, to treat a variety of ailments. On top of being an excellent painkiller and fever reducer at its standard dosage, aspirin dramatically reduces the risks for a second heart attack and certain types of stroke when taken daily at a low (81-mg) dose. Research also suggests that aspirin might help limit the growth of colorectal cancer and possibly inhibit other cancers as well, but more research in this area is needed.

These benefits, coupled with the fact that aspirin is both cheap and relatively safe, have led the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) to recommend that even some healthy people take a daily aspirin to ward off future disease. But figuring out exactly who is likely to benefit most from this therapy is a more complex calculation, says Dr. Michael Gaziano, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Why you should always have aspirin on hand

This old standby may not be your first choice for pain relief, but it still has an important role in disease prevention and first aid.

Image: Thinkstock

We have a lot to thank aspirin for. It's cheap and plentiful. It does a good job of relieving pain and bringing down fevers. It has also been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and colon cancer. It can even stop heart attacks and strokes in their tracks. In fact, if you're in your 50s or 60s, you may want to think about taking a low-dose aspirin every day.

After evaluating the results of scores of studies, in April 2016 the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended that women and men ages 50 through 69 who have a 10% risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years take 81 milligrams (mg) of aspirin daily. Under the previous recommendations—which, were different for men and women—daily low-dose aspirin was advised for women ages 60 through 79 who were at increased risk for cardiovascular events. The recommendation was revised to reflect a new method of calculating the risk of heart attack and stroke and of increased risk of bleeding in older people.

Risk of serious falls linked to changes in blood pressure drugs

When older people start taking a new blood pressure drug or change the dose of their current drug, they may be more prone to a serious fall during the following two weeks. But this increased fall risk doesn’t seem to persist over the long term. 

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.