Tips for Taking Heart Medications


by the Go Red For Women Editors

With all of the different medicines available for all of the things that ail us, keeping track of them can be overwhelming. If you have a heart condition, managing your medicines can be doubly difficult. Chances are that you take more than one medicine daily, whether it’s a prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drug. Each medicine may treat a different symptom or problem, and each comes with separate instructions.

Try these tips for taking heart medication to help keep you and your heart healthy.

1. Talk with your doctor and pharmacist

You need to take all your medicines as directed for them to be most effective. Your doctor and pharmacist can help you better understand the correct amounts and when and how often to take both prescription and OTC medicines. To be fully informed, talk with your doctor. Whether you’re taking prescribed medicines, OTC drugs or both, get the answers to these questions:

  • Should I take this medicine instead of another drug that I’ve been prescribed, or is this an additional treatment?
  • What is this medicine supposed to do for me?
  • What are some common side effects?
  • Are there any interactions with my other prescriptions or OTC medicines?
  • Which foods, supplements and activities could interfere with this medicine?
  • Are there any special storage requirements?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • How long does it take this drug to take effect?

2. Share your information

The American Heart Association recommends making your doctor and pharmacist aware of all the medicines you are taking. This means both prescription and OTC medicines. Let your physician and pharmacist know about any allergies you have. Don’t forget to mention which supplements, herbs, or vitamins you use. Some medicines, foods and supplements or vitamins could conflict with each other and cause problems. If possible, try to go to the same pharmacy each time you fill a prescription.

There are benefits to having all of your prescriptions filled at one pharmacy, says Selig D. Corman, R.Ph., director of professional affairs at the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York in Albany. “That provides a complete patient profile so the pharmacist can efficiently counsel proper use of medicines and prevent possible interactions. Also, the pharmacist can determine if the patient is compliant because of intervals between refills.” If the interval between refills is too long, it indicates that a patient could be skipping doses.

On the flip side, notes Selig, if the time between refills is too frequent, this could mean that a patient is taking more medicine than the doctor has prescribed. For your safety, your pharmacist can monitor the timeliness of your refills and alert you if anything out of the ordinary raises a red flag.

It’s also important to try and buy any OTC medicines at the same pharmacy where you get your prescriptions filled. That way, if you have questions about whether an OTC medicine will interact with prescription medicines you are taking, the pharmacist can let you know because he or she will have access to your prescription records.

3. Mind your meds

Keeping track of your medicines on a daily basis is also important. This can become a challenge if you have to take several different medicines each day. But there are ways to help you remember what you have already taken on any given day and what you still need to take. A plastic pillbox marked with days of the week can be very useful for this purpose. Just be sure to keep it and all medicines up and out of the sight of children who are in, or may visit your home.

You can also keep a list with the names and dosages of all the medicines you’re taking, both prescription and OTC. Be sure to include when you should take them. “The list should be kept in [your] wallet,” says Sophia De Monte, R.Ph., spokeswoman for the American Pharmacists Association. This way you always have it with you. It’s also a good idea to put the list in a visible place at home, like on your fridge.

“For convenience,” she adds, “dosing is scheduled with an easily remembered event—at meals, bedtime, first thing in the morning, breakfast and dinner.” It’s important to follow labeled dosing instructions, so make taking your medicines part of your daily routine. Associate a dose with a daily event.

Upon taking each dose, check off a box on a piece of paper or a calendar. You can even download a medicine tracker app to your smartphone.

Be consistent

“It’s very important to take your medicines consistently,” says Daniel Spogen, M.D., a professor and chairman of family medicine at the University of Nevada, Reno. “Almost always, you want to take them at the same time of day.”

Of course, there are times when you can’t. For instance, you may not feel up to taking your medicine when you feel sick to your stomach or have a cold or the flu. When you can’t take your medicine at the usual time, you might be able to take it later that day. But be sure to ask your doctor first. This helps keep a steady level of medicine in your bloodstream, Spogen says.

Play it safe

Managing your medicines may be a bit time-consuming. But it’s important if you want to avoid problems from getting too much or too little of what you need. Taking some extra time to keep your prescription and OTC medicines safe and properly taking the medicines your doctor recommends will go a long way in helping you stay healthy.

Learn more about managing your heart medications on Go Red For Women.