Heart Medications Archive

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Ask the doctor: Medications that affect warfarin

Ask the doctor

Q. I'm helping my mother, who is in her late 80s, keep track of her medications, as she can be a little forgetful. Her doctor just started her on warfarin, which I've heard can interact with many different medications. What are the most common ones?

A. Warfarin (Coumadin), a widely prescribed clot-preventing drug, can be affected by many medications, but antibiotics and related drugs are the most common source of problems. One example is the antibiotic that contains sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim (Bactrim), which is often used to treat urinary tract infections and bronchitis. It interferes directly with warfarin, heightening its anti-clotting effects, which increases the risk of dangerous bleeding.

Antidote for blood thinner's side effect

There's encouraging news for people who take dabigatran (Pradaxa), a newer type of blood thinner that's had a rare side effect of uncontrolled bleeding during surgery or accidents. In October 2015, the FDA approved an antidote called idarucizumab (Praxbind), which may be able to reverse dabigatran's blood-thinning effects.

Dabigatran was approved by the FDA in 2010 and welcomed as a convenient alternative to warfarin (Coumadin) for people with certain types of atrial fibrillation, deep-vein thrombosis, or pulmonary embolism. While warfarin is generally safe and inexpensive, it takes about a week for it to become effective, and dosing is so complicated that people taking warfarin need frequent blood tests to see if the dose needs to be adjusted. Dabigatran is effective within two hours and doesn't require dose adjustment or lab monitoring. But dabigatran has caused more episodes of major bleeding than had been expected, without a way to reverse the problem.

Once-a-day blood pressure medication

Ask the doctor

Q. I take my blood pressure medication twice a day. Or at least I am supposed to, but I sometimes forget the second dose because my evenings tend to be really busy. What can I do?

A. One idea is to leave a sticky note on your bathroom mirror or near your bed as a reminder. Or try using an alarm (either a traditional alarm clock or one on a smartphone) that rings close to the time when you normally go to bed. You might also consider taking the second dose with dinner, assuming your doctor or pharmacist says it is okay to take your particular medicine with food.

FDA approves antidote to anti-clotting drug

Research we're watching

For people who take anti-clotting drugs such as dabigatran (Pradaxa), one serious downside has been the rare but dangerous risk of uncontrolled bleeding in the event of an accident or urgently needed surgery. But in October, the FDA approved idarucizumab (Praxbind), a drug that quickly reverses the effects of dabigatran. Given by injection into a vein, the drug binds to dabigatran and neutralizes its effect, allowing the blood to clot normally.

Dabigatran was approved in 2010 to prevent strokes (most of which are caused by blood clots in the brain) in people with atrial fibrillation. It's also prescribed to prevent and treat venous thromboembolism. Because idarucizumab works specifically on dabigatran, it can't be used as an antidote for similar anti-clotting medications, which include rivaroxaban (Xarelto), apixaban (Eliquis), and edoxaban (Savaysa). However, an antidote that works on these drugs is under development, with approval expected within the next year or so.

Should you rethink high blood pressure treatment?


Image: Thinkstock

News briefs

Initial results of a large national clinical trial suggest that being more aggressive in treating high blood pressure may save lives. Results of the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) aren't yet published, so we don't know all of the details. But from information released by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in September, it appears that aiming for a systolic (top) blood pressure reading of less than 120 mm Hg may reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure by almost a third, and reduce the overall death rate by 25%. Researchers came to this conclusion after following more than 9,000 middle-aged and older adults with high blood pressure for several years. Half of the participants took an average of two medications and set a target systolic blood pressure of less than 140 mm Hg, the current recommended number. The other half took an average of three medications and aimed for a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 mm Hg. The results in the lower-target group were so impressive that NIH stopped the study early to share the news. Does this mean you should add more pills to your blood pressure treatment? "Not necessarily, because there may be more drug side effects. But if you're aiming for a lower number, I think it will be critical to rely on lifestyle modification, such as stress reduction, diet, salt restriction, and exercise, in addition to medication to lower blood pressure," says Dr. Randall Zusman, a cardiologist and Harvard Medical School associate professor.

Arthritis pain relief while taking warfarin

Ask the doctor

Q. I take warfarin for my atrial fibrillation. I know it can increase the risk of bleeding. Is it okay for me to take ibuprofen for my arthritis?

A. In general, you should avoid ibuprofen—which is sold as Advil, Motrin, and generics—while taking warfarin, because taking them together may further increase your risk of bleeding.

New recommendation narrows heart benefit from low-dose aspirin


Image: Bigstock

In the journals

The influential U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has endorsed low-dose daily aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease in people ages 50 to 59 who have a 10% or greater chance of heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years. Unless a person already has cardiovascular disease, the actual number of heart attacks and strokes prevented with daily aspirin is relatively small. This draft recommendation did not recommend aspirin for those younger than 50 or 60 or older, citing insufficient evidence to make a recommendation.

The USPSTF statement is at odds with a statement in 2014 by the FDA that evidence does not support general use of aspirin to prevent a first heart attack or stroke in otherwise healthy adults. However, daily aspirin is often recommended for those with a history of cardiovascular disease, since the potential benefit (preventing heart attacks and strokes) outweighs the risk of bleeding that comes with regular aspirin use.

Which blood pressure drug is right for you?

Controlling high blood pressure involves trial and error. It may take more than one medication to do the job, and the dosages may need to be adjusted over time. 
Image: Thinkstock

The medications your doctor prescribes may depend on your underlying health issues.

New studies support statin guidelines

Discuss your own situation and preferences with your doctor when deciding whether to take a statin.

Image: Thinkstock

But if you are healthy, deciding if these commonly prescribed drugs are right for you is a personal choice.

Low-dose aspirin for people with heart disease

If you have heart disease, national guidelines recommend that you take a low-dose (81-mg) aspirin every day. It's an inexpensive and effective way to lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke. According to a report in the July 17 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, about seven in 10 adults with heart disease follow this advice.

The study relied on telephone surveys done by the CDC about health behaviors. It included data from more than 17,900 adults from 20 states and the District of Columbia.

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