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Medication myths & facts

Heart pills save millions of lives each year. Some work by slowing down the heartbeat and strengthening its ability to pump blood, others work by keeping the heart’s electricity running smoothly or by lowering blood pressure. And some heart pills that lower cholesterol may also ward off other problems such as cancer. But while these drugs can help treat your heart problem, they aren’t a quick fix. Don’t become a victim of these commonly held myths surrounding heart medicines:

  • You don’t have to eat right or exercise if you take a heart pill. Medicine is meant to supplement—not replace—healthy habits. If you’re on blood pressure or cholesterol medications, exercise may lessen your need for them. Working out helps your heart pump more efficiently and increases amounts of HDL, or good cholesterol, while lowering LDL, or bad cholesterol. (Make sure to talk with your healthcare provider first before starting any exercise program.) Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in saturated and trans fats, can help keep your arteries clear and the strain of excess weight off of your heart.
  • You can stop taking your medicine if you feel better. Heart pills can treat certain conditions, but they’re not a cure. Many drugs, like those used to treat high blood pressure, only help the condition while you’re taking them and may need to be taken for the rest of your life for the best results. High blood pressure isn’t called the "silent killer" for no reason: It can be high even when you feel good.
  • Your healthcare provider doesn’t need to know about those over-the-counter (OTC) medicines you’re taking. Pain relievers and herbal remedies could interact with your prescription medication, so it’s important to let your healthcare provider know everything that’s in your medicine cabinet. For example, most OTC cold and flu products contain decongestants, which can raise your blood pressure and interfere with blood pressure medications. Set up an appointment with your provider to bring in all your prescription and OTC drugs, as well as vitamins and other supplements, and have him or her look them over for any possible interactions.
  • It doesn’t matter when you take your medicine or whether you miss a dose. Not following orders can lead to your drugs not working or cause mild to harmful side effects. Or you could counteract one medicine if you take it with another. If you have trouble remembering to take your medicine, try making it part of another daily routine—for instance, take it with a meal or right before brushing your teeth—or use a pillbox labeled with each day of the week.
  • You’ve been prescribed this drug, and that’s all you need to know. For the best outcome, you need to play an active role in treatment decisions—and that includes knowing about your medication. How does it work? What are the side effects or possible complications and how can you manage them? What if the medicine doesn’t work? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your heart is on the line.