In general, the drugs used to treat cardiovascular disease are classified according to the condition for which they are most often prescribed.
Some common classes of drugs:
Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors – also known as ACE inhibitors, these medicines reduce the narrowing effect exerted on blood vessels by the angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE). They are recommended for patients with congestive heart failure as well as hypertensive patients.
Anti-anginal drugs – for instance, beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers (e.g. verapamil). These have the effect of relaxing the muscles in the heart and its blood vessels, thus alleviating the crushing chest pain which comes with attacks of angina. Beta-blockers impede the action of hormones such as adrenaline which make the heart beat faster and more vigorously; while calcium channel blockers reduce the amount of calcium entering the muscle cells of coronary arteries, causing these vessels to relax and widen.
Anti-arrhythmic drugs – for example, amiodarone and flecainide. They are used to control disturbances in the heart rhythm.
Anticoagulants – these reduce a patient’s risk of thrombosis (blood clot formation). Blood clots are made up of two elements, platelets (minute blood cells) clumped together and a protein called fibrin. Anticoagulants help to guard against blood clots by preventing fibrin from forming. They are often prescribed for patients with coronary heart disease, who are especially vulnerable to thrombosis in their already-narrowed coronary arteries. Examples include heparin and warfarin.
Anti-platelet drugs – they are similar in nature to anticoagulants in that they prevent the formation of blood clots. Unlike anticoagulants however, they work not by targeting the fibrin in blood, but by decreasing the ability of platelets to bind together into clots. Aspirin is the anti-platelet drug most commonly prescribed. It is often recommended for patients with coronary heart disease or atherosclerosis, and also seems to protect against ischaemic strokes.
Diuretics – these are used in the treatment of patients suffering from congestive heart failure who tend to have excessive amounts of water and salt in their bodies. Diuretics help to increase the output of water and salt in the urine. The 3 main types are Thiazide, loop diuretics and potassium sparing diuretics.