A wide range of medications are used to treat various heart conditions. Some examples of the drugs used in cardiovascular medicine include:
Anticoagulants or blood thinners - These agents prevent coagulation or clotting of the blood. Injectable forms of anticoagulants include dalteparin, enoxaparin, tinzaparin and heparin. Warfarin is a commonly used blood thinner that can be taken in the form of a tablet. These drugs do not dissolve existing blood clots but are preventive agents in patients who have had a heart attack.
Antiplatelet agents - Platelets play an important role in blood clotting and the formation of platelet plugs that prevent bleeding. Examples of antiplatelet medications include aspirin, ticlopidine, lopidogrel and dipyridamole. They are used as preventive agents in patients who have had a heart attack.
Thrombolytic agents - These agents are used to break up blood clots that have formed and examples include streptokinase, reteplase and altepase.
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors - These agents expand blood vessels by lowering levels of angiotensin II, a potent vasoconstrictor that drives blood pressure up. ACE inhibitors are used to treat high blood pressure, heart failure and heart attacks. Examples of agents in this class include captopril, enalapril, fosinopril and lisinopril.
Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) - These agents prevent angiotensin II from having any effects on the heart and blood vessels by blocking the receptors it usually binds to. These agents are useful in the treatment of high blood pressure, heart failure and heart attacks. Examples of drugs in this class include candesartan, irbesartan, losartan, telmisartan and valsartan.
Beta blockers or beta-adrenergic blocking agents - These agents decrease the heart rate and the final cardiac output. This lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Beta blockers are useful therapies in high blood pressure and some types of arrhythmia. Agents in this class include atenolol, bisoprolol, metoprolol, propranolol and sotalol.
Calcium channel blockers - Calcium channel blockers stop the movement of calcium into the cells of the heart and blood vessels. This relaxes the vessels and reduces blood pressure. Calcium channel blockers are useful therapies in high blood pressure, angina, and some forms of arrhythmia. Examples of drugs in this class include amlodipine, felodipine, nifedipine and varapamil.
Diuretics - Diuretics increase the excretion of water and sodium in the urine, therefore decreasing the total blood volume. This reduces blood pressure and the heart's workload. Examples of agents in this class include chlorothiazide, amiloride, furosemide, bumetanide, indapamide and spironolactone.
Vasodilators - These drugs relax the blood vessels and cause blood pressure to fall. They are useful in the treatment of high blood pressure, heart failure, angina and heart attacks. Examples include isosorbide, dinitrate and hydralazine.
Digoxin - This agent is used to stimulate a heartbeat in some cases of heart failure.
Statins - These agents reduce the synthesis of blood cholesterol in the liver. High blood cholesterol is one of the major causes of atherosclerosis. Some of the most well known examples include atorvastatin, lovastatin and simvastatin.
Drugs that are used to regulate an abnormal heart rhythm include quinidine, lidocaine, amiodarone, sotalol, verapamil, diltiazem, dofetilide and adenosine.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc