Medications are a very important part of staying healthy and preventing a heart attack or stroke. But to enjoy the benefits of medication it is extremely important that you
- take the medication as directed by your doctor
- do not reduce the amount of medication you take
- do not stop taking the medication until directed to do so by the same doctor who prescribed it.
For patients with cardiovascular disease, taking medication is usually a long-term commitment, perhaps lifelong. Therefore, understanding the medications you are taking and how they work is a key step in managing your cardiovascular disease and preventing a first, or repeat, cardiovascular event. In fact, for many patients, not adhering to a medication plan can have serious, or even fatal, consequences.
How often have you insisted that your partner, child, or parent take his or her medicine to get better or stay well? Your loved ones want the same thing for you—a long and healthy life. So, take your medicine! If not for yourself, take it for the people who care about you.
Why You Need Medication
If you are at significant risk of heart disease; have had a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event; or have undergone procedures such as angioplasty , stenting, or bypass surgery, your doctor will prescribe medications as part of your treatment plan for primary and secondary prevention:
- Primary prevention is whenmedications are prescribed to prevent heart disease. An example of this would be starting a cholesterol medicine before plaque begins to build up in the blood vessels.
- Secondary prevention is whenmedicines are prescribed to limit the progress of heart disease or reducing its symptoms. For example, doctors may prescribe a beta blocker drug for a patient who has had a heart attack to control blood pressure and relieve chest pain (angina).
If you or your primary care physician has any questions about the medications that have been prescribed for you, be sure to talk to your prescribing cardiologist before making any changes. Improving your cardiovascular health depends on carefully taking prescribed medication and maintaining ongoing contact with your cardiologist.Remember, caring for your cardiovascular health does not end when you leave the cardiologist’s office or hospital. It is only the beginning
Know Your Medications
The high cost of medication, as well as keeping track of what you take, how much to take, and when to take it, can be challenging. But if you have heart disease, medication can make you feel better and it might save your life. It is expensive, but frequent trips to the doctor or the hospital emergency room, can cost you more in the long run.
To make it easier to face the cost and inconvenience of taking medication, think of each pill as a life saver or a life enhancer instead of a nuisance. Ask yourself, “What does this medication do for me? How is it saving or enhancing my life?” If you don’t know, read the label. If you still aren’t sure, ask your doctor or ask your pharmacist. Once you understand, write the purpose down for future reference on the Know Your Meds Worksheet, give a copy to anyone involved in your care, and keep a copy with you.
Types of Medication
The following table lists the most common types of medications used in the treatment of cardiovascular disease:
The types of medication listed in this table are not brand or generic names. If you’re not sure which type of medication you’re taking, ask your doctor or pharmacist, or look it up in an online medication database to understand the purpose of the drug and how it will help you.
Side Effects and Interactions
If a medication makes you feel bad in any way or affects your ability to function as you normally would, DO NOT stop taking it but DO tell your doctor. Medication is a critical part of your treatment and your doctor will work with you to alleviate the side effects by adjusting the dosage or trying a different medication. Each type of medication listed in the table above includes different medications, so if one medication has serious side effects or interactions for you (that may or may not be included in the list above), your doctor can prescribe a different medication.
Help with the Cost and Inconvenience of Medication
Now that you know why it’s so important to take your medication as directed by your doctor, and you’re committed to taking it, here are some suggestions for getting the medication that you need:
Know Your Medications and How to Take Them
Keeping track of your medication and when to take it can be overwhelming. A good place to start is to know what each pill looks like and what it’s supposed to do. It will help you make sure you are taking the right medication and remind you of its importance.
Poor Metabolizers (Non-Responders)
Clopidogrel (Plavix), an antiplatelet medication, can be less effective for a small percentage of the population who carry a particular gene. Unfortunately, there are no specific signs or symptoms to help determine whether you are at risk. Complying with your doctor's recommendations is the most important thing you can do.
It is very important that your primary care physician, cardiologist, and any other doctor providing care and treatment knows about all medication you take, including prescription drugs, supplements, and over-the-counter medication.
How to Read a Medication Label
Your medication labels provide important information about how much to take and how often, as well as important information taking it with other medication.
How to Afford Your Medications
One of the most common reasons for not taking medication is the cost. Yes, it can be very expensive. Don’t be embarrassed to admit that you’re concerned about the cost. It’s in your best interest to explore ways to afford the medication you need and to save money where you can with generics, discounts, free samples, assistance programs, and clinical trials.
Know Your Pharmacist
You might be surprised to learn that a pharmacist can answer many of your most pressing questions about your medication, including questions about insurance, generic drugs, interactions, safety, discounts, storage, and disposal. You might save a buck or two by going someplace new or ordering from online pharmacies but you won’t have the support, information, and peace of mind that you will have with a pharmacist you know by name and reputation.
Special Considerations for Older Patients
As we get older, taking care of ourselves can become even more challenging. For example, how we respond to medication changes as we age because our bodies are changing. It is very important to discuss these changes and special considerations with your doctor.
Tips for Caregivers
Managing multiple medications is not easy, so it helps to have a caring team. Take the time to learn about all the medications your loved one is taking. Maybe you can offer some suggestions for helping them remember when to take their pills.
The most important thing to remember about medication is to take it as directed by your doctor. Even if you feel great, hear something negative about it on the news, or another doctor tells you to stop taking it before a procedure, check with your doctor first before you reduce or stop taking your medication.