Get With the Beat: Reviewing Heart Medications

Among the top drugs prescribed in United States today are those that in one way or another affect the cardiovascular system. There are medications for thinning the blood and those for clotting it; medications for expanding the blood vessels so that blood flows more freely allowing the heart to work more efficiently; medications that can help regulate the heart’s rate and rhythm; medications for lowering fats and cholesterol in the blood. We obviously don’t have room to discuss all the heart medications in this article, but let’s explore a few of the most common ones.

  • ACE inhibitors: These are a class of antihypertensive drugs that lower blood pressure preventing strokes, heart attacks, aneurysms, and even liver failure. They work by stopping a hormone called angiotensin from forming. (Angiotensin is a hormone which causes blood vessels to narrow.) Some of the most routinely prescribed ACE inhibitors are enalapril, fosinopril, lisinopril, captopril, and quinapril. Did you notice that they all end in ‘pril?’ That’s an easy way to remember them.
  • “Statin” drugs: These are a class of antihyperlipidemic drugs that lower cholesterol or other fats in the blood leading to too much plaque on the walls of the arteries that can cause heart attacks. Some of the most commonly prescribed statin drugs (HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors) are atorvastatin, lovastatin, simvastatin, rosuvastatin, and pravastatin. Again, notice they all end in ‘statin,’ which makes them easy to remember. 
  • Calcium channel blockers: These drugs are also effective for treating hypertension. They work directly on the heart itself, decreasing the force of contraction of the muscle. They do this by blocking calcium from entering the cells. The most common of these drugs are amlodipine, diltiazem, nifedipine, and verapamil.  One thing that you’ll need to remember about calcium channel blockers is that they interact with grapefruit, preventing the liver from eliminating them from your body. 

As you study the top 200 drugs in preparation for your final exam and the national certification exam (PTCE), it will be important for you to know the generic name of the drug, its brand name, what it’s used for, and any interactions with other medications or foods, such as grapefruit. This will take lots of time, so GET WITH THE BEAT and start now!

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