Heart attack medication
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Heart attack medication

There are a number of medications you could be prescribed after a heart attack.

Key takeaways

  • Medication is important to your recovery after a heart attack  
  • It reduces your risk of future heart events and complications
  • The medication you are prescribed after a heart attack depends on the cause 
  • You should always take prescribed heart attack medication and speak with your doctor or pharmacist before making any changes
3 min read

Common medicines 

The medicines you take depend on your heart condition and symptoms. For a heart attack, it’s normal to take a number of different kinds of medicines.  

Below is a list of medicines commonly used to: 

  • stop blood clots  
  • manage high blood pressure 
  • manage high cholesterol 
  • manage and stop angina. 

Anti-clotting (blood-thinning) medicines 

Antiplatelet medicines 

Aspirin 

You may have to take a small dose of aspirin every day. It can stop blood clots from forming in a narrow artery and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

If you can’t take aspirin, you might take another anticlotting medicine. 

Antiplatelet medicines include clopidogrel, prasugrel and ticagrelor. They can be used with, or instead of, aspirin. They help to stop blood clots forming in your blood vessels. 

You usually need antiplatelet medicines if you’ve had coronary angioplasty and stent implantation, or have had recurring heart attacks or angina. 

If you take an antiplatelet medicine, unless you are suffering severe bleeding you must not stop taking it unless your cardiologist or doctor tells you to. 

This is even more important if you have had a stent implanted. 

Anticoagulant medicines 

Anticoagulant medicines help to prevent blood clots forming and treat existing clots. 

Common anticoagulant medicines include apixaban, rivaroxaban, dabigatran and warfarin

Other medicines can change how anticoagulant medicines work. Tell your doctor or pharmacist or pharmacist about any other medicines you take or plan to start taking and read the instructions carefully. 

Warfarin 

If you are taking warfarin you need to have regular blood tests to check you're taking the right dose and that its working properly. 

In addition to other medicines, some foods and beverages, alcohol, herbs and vitamins can change how warfarin works. Speak to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about what foods, beverages and supplements can interact with warfarin. 

Blood pressure medicines 

Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors 

ACE inhibitors widen (‘dilate’) your blood vessels and reduce strain on your heart. They are used to lower blood pressure, make your heart work better and improve your chance of surviving after a heart attack. 

Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARB) 

ARBs are sometimes used instead of ACE inhibitors if you get side effects, such as a persistent cough, from taking ACE inhibitors. ARBs work like ACE inhibitors -  they widen your blood vessels and reduce strain on your heart. 

Beta-blockers 

Beta-blockers can make your heart beat more slowly, and lower your blood pressure and risk of a heart attack. You may sometimes be given a beta-blocker for arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) or angina

Cholesterol medicines 

Statins 

Statins reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke by helping to lower your cholesterol. They also sometimes lower your triglycerides. 

Statins help to stabilise plaque in arteries. They are often given to people after they have had a heart event (e.g. heart attack, stroke or angina) – even if the person’s cholesterol is in the ‘normal’ range. 

Statins are recommended for almost everyone with coronary heart disease. 

You will usually be given a statin when you are in hospital. You will need to keep taking it when you go home. 

Your doctor may change the dose or type of statin you are taking, to make sure it is working properly and not causing side effects. 

Anti-angina medicines 

Nitrates

Nitrate medicines increase blood flow to your heart by widening blood vessels. They prevent or treat angina.

There are two types of nitrate medicines. 

  • Short-acting nitrate medicines relieve angina symptoms within a few minutes. These medicines are a spray or tablet that goes under your tongue. They are absorbed through the lining of your mouth into your bloodstream. The most common short-acting nitrate medicine is glyceryl trinitrate (sometimes called ‘GTN’). 
  • Long-acting nitrate medicines prevent angina symptoms. They do not relieve an angina episode within a few minutes. These are usually tablets that you swallow whole (you do not put them under your tongue like short-acting nitrate medicines). 

Nitrate medicines may also come as patches, and you gradually absorb the medicine through your skin. 

Other medicines 

Your cardiologist or doctor may prescribe you other drugs. These may be for a range of conditions such as high blood pressure or irregular heartbeats. 

Further questions and support? 

Your GP and pharmacist are excellent sources of information about your medicines.  You can also call the Medicines Line on 1300 633 424 to speak to a health professional about your medicines or call the Heart Foundation Helpline on 13 11 12.  

Taking medications everyday can be challenging and sometimes confusing. Read more about understanding medications and safety.

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