Doctors may prescribe anticoagulants, antiplatelets, angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), beta-blockers, and statins after a heart attack.

In the event of a heart attack, seek emergency medical attention.

Always take medications as a doctor prescribes. Attending regular appointments to discuss medications, side effects, and other concerns after a heart attack is also beneficial.

This article looks at some of the most common heart attack medications, explaining how they work, how people take them, and their potential side effects.

However, remember that all medications have side effects, and not everyone will experience them.

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After a heart attack, medications play an important role in preventing further complications and, possibly, another heart attack.

People often need to take a combination of these medications for a long time, usually for the rest of their lives.

Is it a heart attack?

Heart attacks occur when there is a lack of blood supply to the heart. Symptoms include:

  • chest pain, pressure, or tightness
  • pain that may spread to arms, neck, jaw, or back
  • nausea and vomiting
  • sweaty or clammy skin
  • heartburn or indigestion
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing or wheezing
  • lightheadedness or dizziness
  • anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack

If someone has these symptoms:

  1. Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
  2. Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.

If a person stops breathing before emergency services arrive, perform manual chest compressions:

  1. Lock fingers together and place the base of hands in the center of the chest.
  2. Position shoulders over hands and lock elbows.
  3. Press hard and fast, at a rate of 100–120 compressions per minute, to a depth of 2 inches.
  4. Continue these movements until the person starts to breathe or move.
  5. If needed, swap over with someone else without pausing compressions.

Use an automated external defibrillator (AED) available in many public places:

  1. An AED provides a shock that may restart the heart.
  2. Follow the instructions on the defibrillator or listen to the guided instructions.
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People should never use the medications listed below to treat a heart attack at home without a doctor’s advice.

People sometimes call anticoagulants blood thinners, but they do not actually thin the blood. Instead, they lower the blood’s ability to clot. This helps prevent clots from forming or growing in the blood vessels.

Anticoagulants prevent clots in people with certain heart diseases, such as coronary artery disease (CAD). It can also help prevent stroke.

Examples of anticoagulants include:

People tend to take the medication in tablet form. Sometimes, doctors may recommend administering anticoagulants as an injection or intravenously via a drip.

The most common potential side effect is that the medication makes a person more likely to bleed. It is usually minor. Still, people may find their gums bleed, they bruise easily, or cuts take longer to heal.

Serious bleeding is rare but can be life threatening when it happens. Anyone taking anticoagulants who suffers a head injury or notices any of the following symptoms should call 911 or their healthcare team immediately:

  • vomiting blood
  • bloody or black stools

Learn more about anticoagulant medications.

These medications also help prevent blood clots from forming to reduce the risk of stroke.

The most common antiplatelet drug doctors prescribe is aspirin. According to the American Heart Association, almost everyone with CAD — including those who have had a heart attack — will take aspirin for the rest of their lives.

Sometimes, doctors may prescribe another antiplatelet medication and aspirin. They may call this dual antiplatelet therapy. Examples include:

  • dipyridamole (Persantine)
  • prasugrel (Effient)
  • clopidogrel (Plavix)
  • ticagrelor (Brilinta)

Antiplatelets tend to come in tablet form.

Their potential side effects include:

Learn more about taking aspirin to prevent heart attacks.

ACE inhibitors allow blood to flow more easily to the heart by expanding the blood vessels. They work to lower the levels of angiotensin II, a protein hormone.

Generally, ACE inhibitors help prevent high blood pressure and future heart attacks.

Common types of ACE inhibitors include:

  • benazepril (Lotensin)
  • moexipril (Univasc)
  • ramipril (Altace)
  • trandolapril (Mavik)
  • captopril (Capoten)
  • perindopril (Aceon)
  • quinapril (Accupril)
  • enalapril (Vasotec)
  • fosinopril (Monopril)
  • lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril)

ACE inhibitors tend to come as tablets, though some come in an intravenous (IV) form.

The most common potential side effects include:

  • dry cough
  • dizziness
  • hypotension, also called low blood pressure
  • elevated levels of urea, nitrogen, and creatine in the blood
  • hyperkalemia, which is high potassium levels in the blood
  • fainting

Angioedema, or swelling of the face, lips, and upper airways, can occur with ACE inhibitor use. While this can be life threatening, it is a rare side effect.

Learn more about ACE inhibitors.

ARBs also prevent blood pressure from rising by preventing angiotensin II from affecting the blood vessels and heart.

Doctors may recommend ARBs to people who have side effects with ACE inhibitors.

Common ARBs include:

  • azilsartan (Edarbi)
  • telmisartan (Micardis)
  • valsartan (Diovan)
  • candesartan (Atacand)
  • eprosartan (Teveten)
  • olmesartan (Benicar)
  • irbesartan (Avapro)
  • losartan (Cozaar)

This medication comes in tablet form. There are a few potential side effects that may include:

  • a cough
  • fluid buildup anywhere in the body
  • hypotension
  • hyperkalemia

Learn more about ARBs.

Beta-blockers work to slow the heart rate and decrease the force of contraction, or squeeze, of the heart as it pumps. Doctors may recommend them to help prevent future heart attacks.

Examples of beta-blocker drugs include:

  • bisoprolol (Zebeta)
  • acebutolol (Sectral)
  • atenolol (Tenormin)
  • nadolol (Corgard)
  • propranolol (Inderal)
  • sotalol (Betapace)
  • betaxolol (Kerlone)
  • bisoprolol/hydrochlorothiazide (Ziac)
  • metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol XL)

Beta-blockers may come in tablet, injection, or IV forms. Potential side effects can include:

Learn more about beta-blockers.

Statins help reduce the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. People sometimes call LDL cholesterol “bad” cholesterol.

LDLs can narrow or block the arteries, making it difficult for blood to flow through them. This can increase the chances of someone having a heart attack.

Common statins include:

Statins usually come in tablet form. In some people, they can cause statin-associated muscle symptoms. These can range from mild muscle aches, pains, and cramps to severe muscle damage in rare cases.

Learn more about statins.

After a heart attack, doctors usually prescribe more than one medication. Getting the combination just right can take time. This is because all medications affect people in different ways.

Anyone who has symptoms of heart disease or potential side effects of any medications should talk with their healthcare team.

A heart attack is a medical emergency. It happens when something stops or severely reduces blood flow to the heart, depriving it of oxygen. People should seek emergency help if they think they are having a heart attack.

After someone has had a heart attack, doctors usually recommend a combination of medications. The aim is to help blood flow to the heart more easily and stop another heart attack from happening.

Common medications include anticoagulants, ACE inhibitors, ARBs, beta-blockers, and statins. The right combination will be different for everyone, and it may take time to get the mix right.

Anyone who has side effects from a heart medication can speak with a doctor for support.