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Medicine management tips for people with heart disease

A variety of treatments can help you control heart disease. In many cases, your doctor will prescribe one or more medications as part of your treatment plan. You may need to take these medicines every day—maybe even several times a day.

While it's easy to feel overwhelmed by all those pill bottles, the bottom line is this: These medicines have a job to do, and they can't do it if you don't take them as recommended.

"We know, through clinical trials, that these medicines work—that they have tremendous beneficial effects," says Anjanette Ferris, MD, a former spokeswoman for the American Heart Association (AHA). "It is very important for doctors and patients to work together to develop a good regimen that minimizes side effects—and that the patient can follow."

The following strategies from the AHA can help you stay on track with your heart medications.

Learn about your medications. "People are much more likely to take their medication if they understand more about it," Dr. Ferris says.

Questions people should ask their doctor or pharmacist include:

  • Why am I taking this medicine?
  • How often do I need it?
  • What time of day should I take it?
  • Should I take it with food?
  • What side effects should I watch for?

It also helps to know how each medicine works, Dr. Ferris says. For example, some medicines improve the heart's pumping action, some keep blood clots from forming, and others decrease fluid in the body.

The AHA suggests making a medicine cheat sheet. To make a cheat sheet, tape one of each of your pills on a piece of paper or cardboard to remember what each looks like. Beside each pill, write down important information, such as the name and dose of the medicine, when you take it, and what it's for.

Follow the schedule. These tips can remind you about your medication schedule, no matter how many or how few medications you need each day:

  • Develop a routine. Take medicine at the same time every day, maybe along with an everyday activity, such as brushing your teeth or eating a meal.
  • Keep a calendar, checklist or small magnetized, erasable whiteboard near your medicine, and check off doses as you take them every day.
  • Stay organized. Try different pillboxes or sorters until you find one that works for you. If you're having trouble, ask your pharmacist for suggestions—he or she may even be able to prepare blister packs with your medicines presorted for each day or week. Your doctor or pharmacist may also be able to substitute combination pills or once-a-day pills to help simplify your medication schedule, according to Dr. Ferris.
  • Attach colored labels to medicine bottles—maybe red for pills taken in morning, blue for afternoon and yellow for bedtime.

Work with your doctor. If you're having trouble with your medication, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. They can provide solutions to a wide variety of problems. For example, if a medication is too costly, they may be able to recommend a less expensive alternative.

Whatever you do, don't skip medications or stop taking them without talking to your doctor first. Skipping even one day of a medicine could make the drug not work as it's supposed to. In addition, suddenly stopping certain medications could cause problems. "Some medicines must be tapered off," Dr. Ferris says. "Stopping certain medications suddenly can be dangerous."

Also continue to take medicines as prescribed by your doctor, even if you feel better. "Many of the signs of heart disease are silent," Dr. Ferris says. "You may not know the medicines are working, but they are."

reviewed 7/10/2019

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