If you have been prescribed medication for a heart condition, it is important to know what you are taking, why you are taking it, how to take it and what effects it will have. There are a number of effective drugs to treat heart conditions and research has made great progress in recent years.
Why are there so many different medications?
Most drugs designed to treat heart disease belong to a few main types or categories. The drugs within each category are similar, but they may vary slightly in the way they work. Doctors have a wide variety of drugs to choose from and can select the one that best meets your needs. You may have the same condition as a friend or neighbour, but your doctor may prescribe different drugs because they’re better suited to you. Everyone reacts differently to each medicine.
The same drug may have several different names – each has an ‘official name’ (the generic name) but it may be prescribed under one or more trade names, or proprietary names – those given to it by its manufacturer. Occasionally, two drugs are combined in one tablet and will have a single trade name.
The function of the drug depends on what it is, but most change how the heart or circulatory system work. Some are given to control high blood pressure to help lower cholesterol and some can benefit more than one condition.
Most drugs need to be taken regularly, but you should always follow your doctor’s instructions. In most cases, this means taking your medication once or twice a day. Some drugs need to be taken when a symptom occurs, like angina. It can be dangerous to stop taking your medication without medical advice, so speak to your doctor before you stop taking any medication.
Medications used to treat heart conditions are very safe and dangerous side effects are rare. But all drugs have possible side effects, so if you develop any new symptoms, it’s important to tell your doctor. Your pharmacist can tell you more about your medication, and by law the information leaflet in your medication’s packaging must list all the possible side effects.
There might be several different medications that treat your heart condition, but not all will be right for you. Your doctor will choose the one that is most likely to be effective for your condition and which is most suitable and safe for you. People respond to drugs differently and if your medication doesn’t suit you, your doctor will prescribe another.
Angina usually feels like a heaviness or tightness in your chest which may spread to your arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach. Symptoms usually subsides after a few minutes and while some patients report a severe tightness, others say it’s more like a dull ache. It’s often brought on by physical activity or an emotional upset, cold weather and after a meal. If your angina pattern changes in any way, you should speak to your doctor immediately.
Source - British Heart Foundation
Statins are a drug prescribed to healthy, high-risk people to protect them from heart disease.
If you have already had a heart attack or stroke you will also be prescribed a statin to help prevent further problems and to keep your heart healthy.
Statins reduce the amount of cholesterol produced in the body. Your body produces cholesterol naturally, and it’s essential for many of your systems to work, but too much cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease.
Statins reduce the amount of cholesterol that your cells make, forcing them to instead gather cholesterol from your blood stream, reducing your blood cholesterol level.
Statins reduce the levels of ‘bad cholesterol’ – the low-density lipoprotein or LDL. High levels of LDL can lead to the build up of fatty deposits in your arteries and can lead to coronary heart disease.
A large amount of research has shown that lowering blood cholesterol reduces your risk of heart disease and heart attacks.
Like all medicines, statins carry potential side effects,but the side effects of statins are usually mild, easy to recognise, reversible and very rarely dangerous. Statins are among the safest drugs and one of the most studied medicines available today.
Because statins target the liver cells, your liver function will be tested before you start taking statins and then reviewed a few months later. If your liver function is affected, your doctor may want to reduce your dose or change your statin.
Some people experience muscle pain, but this usually stops soon after taking the statin. If it doesn’t, you should tell your GP. Your GP may want to reduce the dose of the statin or switch to a different one.
Very rarely, muscles can leak protein that may build up in the kidneys. This can cause a serious condition called rhabdomyolysis. It is very rare and affects about one in every 100,000 people.
No, there is no evidence that statins cause these conditions. Some research has identified an association, but often associations between diseased and medicines often turn out to be a coincidental link.
All statins do the same job, but different types have slightly different chemical structures. This means that if you’re sensitive to one, you might not be to another. Statins have evolved, and newer drugs such as atorvastatin and rosuvastatin are stronger than older ones.
Lots of people don’t need a strong statin to reduce their cholesterol and your doctor will find the right statin for you depending on your medical history and your cholesterol target.
Since simvastatin came ‘off-patent’ it has become cheaper, prompting doctors to swap some people from more expensive statins. Simvastatin is adequate for most people, but you should have a blood test after any change of statin.
Most people take statins on a long-term basis. Your body will always produce cholesterol, so if you stop taking a statin, it’s likely your cholesterol levels will rise.
Low-dose statins are available at pharmacies but these are not a substitute for prescription statins. If you are at high risk of heart disease, your doctor should prescribe a statin for you.
Cholesterol is produced when you’re asleep, so take them before bed if you can. It’s important to take medicines regularly, so find a time that works for you and stick to it.
Check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any other medication as other drugs might affect them. If you’re taking simvastatin, avoid grapefruit - both whole and juice – as it contains a compound which blocks its breakdown.
Yes, studies so far show that statins are equally safe and effective for men and women. If you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy, you shouldn’t take statins. If you’re already taking statins but would like to become pregnant, speak to your doctor first.
No one will force you to take any drug, but keep in mind that a statin will reduce your risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack.
Most people who are offered statins have at least a one in five chance of having a heart attack in the next ten years. This risk is substantially reduced by taking a statin.
To help reduce your cholesterol level, you need to cut down on saturated fats and trans fats and replace them with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
You should also reduce the total amount of fat you eat. Eating a balanced diet and taking regular physical activity can also help to improve your cholesterol level.
Source - British Heart Foundation