Health & Medicine

Pharmacists are an important part of cardiovascular care team

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a heart condition or cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, chances are you're taking a variety of medications to manage your health.

Because it is common for patients to have more than one physician prescribing medications, and because modern pharmacological therapy involves long lists of potential side effects and interactions, your pharmacist can be your best ally in getting the most out of your medications.

When patients receive prescriptions from multiple physicians, it is important to consolidate their prescriptions with one pharmacy. This keeps all of your records in one place, so your pharmacist can keep an eye out for potential drug interactions. If you are unable to use one pharmacy for all prescriptions, be sure to speak with a pharmacist when filling a new prescription, to let them know what other medications you are taking so they can let you know of any potential interactions.

Pharmacists are experts with extensive training in understanding how medications work with each other and the body, and they are there to help you. Your pharmacist, along with your family doctor and cardiologist, is an important member of your heart health team.

Common prescriptions for heart and cardiovascular conditions include medications for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and anticoagulants (commonly known as blood thinners). All of these medications work best when taken on a regular schedule and according to instructions. A pharmacist can advise you if a particular medication should be taken with food or on an empty stomach, at what time of day you should take the medication and what side effects you can expect.

One subject that frequently comes up in the treatment of heart disease is whether herbal or natural supplements can help. Some people claim to have received cardiovascular benefits from supplements such as Vitamin E, fish oil, garlic or other products available at vitamin and health food stores.

Although none of these products has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of heart disease, they are very popular. When evaluating whether to include herbal or natural supplements as part of your plan for overall health, it is important to consult a pharmacist. While some herbal treatments may be harmless, others could interact with prescription medications to produce negative side effects, or to reduce the efficacy of the prescription treatments. Also, never use herbal or natural supplements as a substitute for prescription heart medications. Their efficacy has not been proven and relying on supplements in place of medication could be detrimental to your health.

Finally, it is important for heart patients to consult with a pharmacist about over-the-counter medications. For example, some OTC cold and allergy medications are unsuitable for those with conditions such as high blood pressure. Over-the-counter medications are still pharmaceuticals and their ingredients could interact negatively with prescription medications.

Never hesitate to ask your pharmacist for advice about medication. While this is good advice for anyone, it's particularly important for those with cardiovascular conditions to include their pharmacist in their care plan. Pharmacists are there to help.