If you have heart disease you are probably on heart medication. While it may seem a bother, the reality is you are fortunate to live in a time when effective medications are readily available.
When I was diagnosed my brother said to me, "with your overall health, and the medications available today, you'll probably live to be 100!" (I hope he's right) And drugs are constantly being researched, developed, and improved.
Unfortunately, many people don't take their medications at all, or don't take them as directed. According to From the Heart by Kathy Kastan, over 50% of people don't use their medications properly. They combine drugs that shouldn't be combined,which puts them at risk for medication interaction, or they don't follow the instructions for when or how to take them (morning or night, with food or fluids, etc.), they fail to take their medications regularly, or they take too much. Ten percent of hospital admissions are due to medication misuse.
Cholesterol lowering medications and drugs to control blood pressure can be very effective, but just because you take these drugs, don't think for a minute that you don't need to eat a heart healthy diet or get exercise.Lifestyle changes are just as important as taking the medications your doctor prescribes.
Make sure you know when to take your heart medication, what to do if you forget a dose, and what other drugs or foods to avoid in combination with your meds. If you are not sure, check with your doctor.
Side effects of medications
No one really likes being on medications. And, some meds do have side effects. It can be an allergy or just how your body responds to the dosage - the right dose for one person may be too much for another.
If you are experiencing negative side effects, DON'T quit taking your heart medication. This can be dangerous and in some cases life threatening. Instead, talk to your doctor and tell him or her what you are experiencing. If your medication reactions are acute, go to the hospital.
You may be able to take a different medication or alter the dose.
To learn more about possible side effects of your medications, talk to your pharmacist or doctor, read the information that comes with your prescription, and keep informed.
Carry a list of all your meds
Having a list of your medications and the dosages in your wallet or purse is not only a good idea for medical checkups or visits to the doctor, but it could be a lifesaver if you get into serious trouble. Include any vitamins or over-the-counter remedies that you use on this list.
If you are on multiple medications, it can be confusing to remember what to take when, and whether or not you already took it!
Medication organizers are available at drug stores to help you organize and keep track. You can choose the system that best suits your lifestyle and your medications. In some, the boxes have compartments for times of day. I use one-week pill boxes with AM and PM compartments. I have three boxes so I fill three weeks at a time, then I don't have to worry about it in between.
Take your medications at the same time and same place each day when possible. Having a routine means you will be less likely to forget.
Take enough medication with you to last the entire vacation, plus extrain case you get delayed in returning home. I've had this happen. An unplanned delay can be unsettling. Not having your meds can create major worry and inconvenience - so save yourself some grief and plan for the unexpected.
Do you have a cottage, boat, or motor home that you use on a regular basis? If so, keep a small stash (a few days worth) of your heart medication there as insurance in case you forget to bring your meds with you. That way your weekend or getaway won't be ruined. But make sure you replace them periodically as medications do have an expiration date.
Drugs break down over time and lose their effectiveness. Most over-the-counter drugs and prescription drugs have an expiry date on the package. If there isn't an expiry date, a good rule of thumb according to a pharmacist is, if you haven't used it a year after purchasing it, dispose of it.
Most drug plans will cover purchases of a three-month supply. This makes sense in terms of less waste if the medication doesn't agree with you, and it protects you from having drugs that have passed their expiry date.
Drugs are expensive. Even if you have a good drug plan, you will likely be paying a portion of the cost. Talk to your doctor about generic heart medications instead of brand name. If a generic version is available it will have the same ingredients but cost significantly less.
If you don't have a drug plan, you may qualify for assistance. Some resources are:
Partnership for Prescription Assistance helps people who lack prescription coverage get the meds they need through public or private programs. www.pparx.org/Intro.php
NeedyMeds is a non-profit site with the mission of helping people who cannot afford medicine or health care costs. The information at NeedyMeds is available anonymously and free of charge. www.needymeds.com
What to do with old meds?
Don't throw medications down the drain, in the toilet, or into the garbage. They'll end up in our water supply, our sewage, or contaminating the ground.
Although the amount of active ingredient in the drugs may be small, you can imagine how quickly it can add up if everyone disposes of medications this way.
Take your old or unused drugs to your pharmacy. Many pharmacies participate in programs to dispose of drugs and they will be able to incinerate them in an environmentally friendly way. If your pharmacy doesn't provide this service, check with your municipality or county for locations of local hazardous waste facilities where you can take old or unused medications.
Sources of information on heart medications
Your doctor and pharmacist are your first source of information.
Do you take Plavix?
According to Reuters (August 2009) research has shown that heartburn pills like Nexium and Prilosec do not stop blood-thinning drugs such as Plavix from working effectively, contrary to recent fears.
The finding is reassuring to patients, doctors and drug companies.
An earlier study raised concerns that mixing the two types of medicines increased the risk of heart patients having a second heart attack and led drug regulators on both sides of the Atlantic to issue warnings discouraging combined use unless essential.
But a new analysis of a large clinical study involving more than 13,000 patients taking Plavix showed they did not interfere with the heart drugs' clinical benefits.
Cardiologists said the new analyses were encouraging. However, the issue will only be closed conclusively by conducting a large clinical trial focused specifically on interaction, said Kurt Huber, a cardiologist at Wilhelmine Hospital in Vienna.
It's a good idea to always go to the same pharmacy. This way, the pharmacist(s) can get to know you and your medication history, plus they will know all the drugs you are taking and can spot potential problems or complications with drug combinations.
Have you got some tips for managing your heart medication? Send them our way so we can share them.