Food for Thought : Mistakes to Avoid With Heart Medications
If you're taking any kind of medicine for heart disease, you're probably taking it for life — so you need to learn to take it safely. Here are tips for avoiding common pitfalls. By Diana Rodriguez Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH Taking heart medications isn’t easy. You'll likely have to remember multiple pills and specific instructions for each. But these medications, when taken correctly, can help manage or prevent heart disease, control blood pressure and cholesterol, and generally keep you healthy for years to come. You probably know this. But you also need to know that if you take your medicines incorrectly, not only can heart disease and related health problems progress, but you may start to feel sick — from progressing heart disease, drug interactions, or a side effect from your heart medications. Taking Heart Medications Correctly It may seem simpler to just swallow all your pills at once whenever you think about it. But there's definitely a method to taking heart medications to maximize their effectiveness against your health problems and minimize their side effects. Here are some ways to prevent some of the most common mistakes people make when taking heart medications: 1 . Make a list of your medications. Taking multiple drugs increases the risk of drug interactions. Keeping a complete list of all the medications that you take — and showing it to all your doctors at every visit — can help reduce the likelihood of any new medication interacting with ones that you are already taking. 2 . Make a habit of taking your medications as directed, every day. It can be easy to forget to take your heart medication — but it can also be very serious to your health. Find a way to make remembering to take your heart medication easier, by doing it along with a daily activity like eating a meal or brushing your teeth. You can also group your medications in a daily pillbox, set an alarm on your watch or cell phone, or ask for reminders from your spouse. 3 . Don't stop taking your medications unless your doctor tells you to. When you start feeling like yourself again, and when your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers improve, that doesn’t mean you're off the hook for your heart medication. Unless your doctor tells you to, never stop taking your heart medication or change the frequency with which you take it. 4 . Get all your drugs at one pharmacy. Your pharmacist can help you keep track of your medications and spot any possible drug interactions. He can also help you identify any side effects that might be stemming from your heart medications. Rather than traveling all over town to several different pharmacies, fill all your prescriptions in one place to help you manage your medications better.5 . Don't forget your refills. Stay on top of how much medicine you have left, and refill prescriptions promptly. Don't wait until you run out, as you might not be able to get to the pharmacy and may miss a dose. 5 . Be aware of possible side effects. Heart medications can cause some side effects, so it's important to know what they are so that you can be on the lookout. If you suddenly notice yourself feeling a little dizzy, coughing more often, or feeling a little nauseated, it could be caused by your heart medications. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what side effects are common, and speak with them if you start experiencing problems. Sometimes taking a medicine in the evening can avoid side effects related to dizziness — ask your doctor if this would be safe to do. Avoiding Side Effects Most side effects aren't serious, but they can be bothersome. The most important thing that you can do to prevent side effects is to take your medications exactly as your doctor prescribed them. Your pharmacist can also give you some suggestions on taking your medications — for instance, one medication may need to be taken with a lot of water, while another may need to be taken along with a meal to prevent an upset stomach, while another should not be taken with other medications. Remember that list of medications you wrote down? You might want to write down the side effects — and how to handle them — on it, as well. You should also remember to tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the over-the-counter medications, supplements, vitamins, and herbs that you take. Those could cause side effects from a drug interaction. Check with a health care professional before you take any other medications in conjunction with your heart medications — even simple cough and cold medicines.