The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medication categories listed below. Listed medications are only examples of pharmaceuticals within each group. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications as recommended by your doctor, or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.
Emergency medical personnel may begin treating you with medications before you reach the hospital. At the hospital, additional drugs will be given and you will likely receive medications to take at home after you are discharged.
Nitrates help relieve chest pain by dilating the arteries, which allows more blood to flow to the heart muscle. Early in treatment nitroglycerin may be administered as a tablet placed under the tongue or infused through a vein. Long-term, nitroglycerin may be given on a regular basis through a patch, paste, or orally to control chronic chest pain.
Possible side effects include:
Low blood pressure
Tissue plasminogen activator (tPA)
A drug to dissolve or break up blood clots in the coronary artery may be given intravenously. Early treatment, within three hours of the heart attack, offers the best chance for good results. The patient’s medical history, age, and condition may prevent treatment with clot-busting drugs.
During a heart attack, damage to the heart muscle can increase the risk of abnormal heart rhythms. Unstable heart rhythms can prevent the heart from effectively pumping blood, and if serious, lead to sudden death. Antiarrhythmic drugs help the heart beat more normally, usually by suppressing abnormal beats or by regularizing the heart rate. There are a wide variety of drugs available to treat the various causes of abnormal rhythms. In emergencies, some of these drugs are given intravenously. Oral forms of medication are used to treat more chronic arrhythmias. The main issue with these drugs is that unless the underlying rhythm problem can be corrected, they must be taken indefinitely. Also, one of the more unpredictable side effects of some of these medications is the risk of making the arrhythmia worse. Talk to your doctor about the specific side effects or warning signs to watch for based on the drug you are taking.
Beta-blockers decrease demands on the heart and lower blood pressure. They may limit the amount of heart damage and help to prevent future heart attacks.
They can also be used for their antiarrhythmic effects.
Calcium channel blockers lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. These may be given to patients who cannot take beta-blockers. They can also be used for their antiarrhythmic effects. Recent research indicates they are not helpful in the early treatment of heart attack, nor do they prevent future heart attacks.
Statins are drugs that help to lower blood cholesterol levels. They may be prescribed along with a low cholesterol diet in patients with elevated blood cholesterol levels.
In a recent clinical trial of daily atorvastatin after recent stroke or "mini-stroke" (and no known
coronary heart disease), atorvastatin reduced the risk of repeat stroke or heart attack.
may be given by emergency medical personnel and continued after admission to the hospital. Aspirin helps prevent clotting and reclosing of the artery. Aspirin should generally be taken with food to decrease stomach upset.
Possible side effects include:
Bleeding and stroke
Additional drugs may be given depending on your condition and response to treatment.
Whenever you are taking a prescription medication, take the following precautions:
Take them as directed—not more, not less, not at a different time.
Do not stop taking them without consulting your doctor.
Don’t share them with anyone else.
Know what effects and side effects to expect, and report them to your doctor.
If you are taking more than one drug, even if it is over-the-counter, be sure to check with a physician or pharmacist about drug interactions.
Plan ahead for refills so you don’t run out.
Ryan T, Antman E, Brooks NH. For: American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. ACC/AHA guidelines for the management of patients with acute myocardial infarction.
Ovbiagele B. Statin therapy after stroke or transient ischemic attack-a new weapon in our secondary stroke prevention arsenal?
Nat Clin Pract Neurol.
2007 Jan 23; [Epub ahead of print].
*Updated section on
on 9/19/06 according to the following study, as cited by
DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Amarenco P, Bogousslavsky J, Callahan A, Goldstein LB, Hennerici M, Rudolph AE, et al. High-dose atorvastatin after stroke or transient ischemic attack.
N Engl J Med
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a