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You May Take Aspirin, Statins, or Beta-Blockers

Apr. 29, 2016 Men's Health

Watch a string of commercials or page through a magazine, and you’re bound to see at least a couple ads for drugs that promise to protect your heart.

You can probably rattle off a bunch of names—Plavix, Lipitor, and Coumadin, for starters—and you may even have a bottle or two sitting in your medicine cabinet.

After all, 30 percent of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, and 13 percent have high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But how exactly do these common drugs reduce your risk of stroke, heart attack, and other heart problems?

Read on to find out what you need to know about some of the most commonly prescribed pills.

Type: Anticoagulants
You know them as: Aspirin, Coumadin, and Plavix

Anticoagulants are known as blood thinners, but they don’t actually thin your blood.

What they do is interfere with proteins in your body called clotting factors, which help produce clots. These clots can be harmful because they block blood flow in your arteries.

“Heart attacks and stroke are caused by a blockage in blood flow to either the heart or the brain,” says Allan Stewart, M.D., director of aortic surgery and co-director of the Valve Center at The Mount Sinai Health System, in New York City.

Your doctor may prescribe an anticoagulant if you have a history of a heart condition such as heart attack or atrial fibrillation—an irregular heartbeat—or have risk factors for heart disease.

These include being obese or diabetic, smoking, or having a family history of heart disease or heart attack.

Type: ACE inhibitors
You know them as: Zestril, Lotensin, or Monopril

ACE inhibitors—officially known as angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors—are drugs used to treat high blood pressure.

Your doctor may prescribe blood pressure medications like ACE inhibitors if your systolic pressure (the top number) is 140 or higher, or your diastolic pressure (the bottom number) is 90 or higher, and lifestyle modifications such as exercise and eating a healthier diet have failed.

ACE inhibitors work by slowing down the activity of a blood vessel-constricting chemical in your body called angiotensin II. This allows your blood vessels to dilate, bringing down your blood pressure.

After starting you on ACE inhibitors, your doctor will monitor you to make sure the medication is lowering your BP without causing any significant side effects like headache, dizziness, or fatigue.

About 20 percent of patients also experience a dry, hacking cough on the meds, since ACE inhibitors may irritate nerve fibers in your trachea, according to researchers in the Netherlands.

If you are experiencing side effects, your doctor will switch you to another blood pressure medication.

There are over 100 medications designed to lower your BP, says Dr. Stewart—and finding the one that works best for you can be a trial-and-error approach.

Type: ARBs
You know them as: Atacand, Avapro, or Benicar

ARBs—angiotensin II receptor blockers—are another class of drugs used to treat high blood pressure.

Like ACE inhibitors, ARBs target the protein angiotensin II, which constricts your blood vessels. It just does so in a different way, by preventing the protein from binding to its receptors on your muscles and around your blood vessels.

As a result, your vessels dilate, allowing blood to flow more freely and bring down your BP.

ARBs are often prescribed for people who experience the hacking cough associated with ACE inhibitors, since this drug is much less likely to cause that side effect, Dr. Stewart says.

Still, they aren’t without their own host of side effects, including diarrhea, muscle cramps, insomnia, and irregular heart rate.

If you’re bothered by side effects, your doctor will switch you to another BP-lowering drug.

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