Heart medicines

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There are many different medicines for heart disease.

What are heart medicines used for?

Heart medicines are used to treat heart conditions.

Types of heart medicines

There are lots of different medicines used to treat diseases of the heart. These all belong to a few main groups, including:

  • ACE inhibitors
  • angiotensin-II antagonists
  • anti-arrhythmic medicines
  • anticoagulant medicines
  • anti-platelet medicines
  • beta-blockers
  • calcium-channel blockers
  • cholesterol-lowering medicines
  • digoxin
  • diuretics
  • nitrates like glyceryl trinitrate (GTN) tablets or spray

The medicines within each group are similar but may have small differences in how they work.

You may be prescribed a combination of medicines.

How to take heart medicines

Heart medicines are taken in different ways, including:

  • by mouth – usually as tablets, capsules or liquids, which you swallow or take dissolved in water
  • under your tongue – you put a tablet under your tongue and allow it to dissolve, or you spray the medicine directly under your tongue
  • into a vein – injected directly into a vein, or given in a diluted form through an intravenous drip
  • into a muscle – given by an injection into a muscle, like the buttock or thigh
  • under the skin – given by an injection just under the skin
  • a patch – you stick a patch containing the medicine on your skin and the medicine is absorbed gradually


  • take your medicines as prescribed by your doctor
  • tell the pharmacist or doctor about any other medications you’re taking
  • discuss any side effects or a change in symptoms with your doctor or pharmacist
  • talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse if you need help remembering to take your medication


  • do not stop taking any medicines suddenly without your doctor’s advice
  • do not take or ‘borrow’ any medications prescribed for someone else

Possible side effects

Most people do not experience any side effects when taking heart medicines. If they do, these symptoms can disappear after a while.

Read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine. You should discuss any concerns or questions with your pharmacist or GP.

If you develop any new, persistent or worrying symptoms, tell your doctor about them immediately. Your doctor may be able to lower the dose or prescribe a different medicine.

Do not stop taking your prescribed medicines without medical advice. This could make your condition worse.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Tell your healthcare professional if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. This means they can prescribe the most suitable heart medication for you.

There are some medicines pregnant or breastfeeding women shouldn’t take. If you need to take medicines for a heart condition, your doctor will consider the risks to both you and your baby.

Medicines should usually only be prescribed in pregnancy if the benefit to the mother is thought to be greater than the risk to the baby.

You should avoid taking any medicines during the first 3 months of pregnancy, if possible. If you do need to take medicines, you’ll be given the safest one available.

Many medicines have side effects that are potentially harmful during pregnancy. Talk to your GP or midwife before taking any medicines. This includes ones you can buy over the counter without a prescription and homeopathic remedies, like St. John’s Wort.

Food and drink

Some medicines contain sodium, which is found in salt. Having a large amount of salt in your diet increases the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Grapefruit and grapefruit juice can affect the way some heart medicines work. For example, they can increase the effect of the medicine. This can make you feel unwell.

Check the information leaflet that comes with your medicine. If you’re worried, ask your GP or pharmacist.

Last updated:
23 July 2024

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