Specialists at our Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program sometimes prescribe medications to manage symptoms caused by adult congenital heart disease. These medications can help regulate abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias, and manage heart failure, in which the heart doesn’t pump enough blood to the body.
Antiarrhythmic medications can control the electrical activity of the heart, helping it to beat regularly in people with arrhythmias. There are many types of antiarrhythmics, each designed to treat specific types of heart rhythm disorders.
People with atrial flutter or atrial fibrillation are at increased risk of developing blood clots, which can form when the organ’s upper chambers don’t contract fully and blood becomes stagnant. If you have an arrhythmia, your doctor may prescribe an anticoagulant medication to prevent clots from forming and traveling to the brain, which can lead to a stroke.
Some anticoagulants can cause bleeding, such as in the gums or the stomach. For this reason, your doctor may use regular blood testing to monitor you throughout treatment.
Doctors may recommend antiplatelet medications such as aspirin, particularly for people who have bleeding gums and others who can’t tolerate the side effects of anticoagulants. These medications prevent platelets—blood cells that form clots in response to an injury—from clumping together and interrupting blood flow.
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to prevent or treat an infection. This is because people with ventricular septal defects are at an increased risk for an infection called endocarditis. This infection can affect heart valves, the leads attached to cardiac devices, and other materials, such as patches, used during surgery to repair the heart. Adults with heart valves that have been replaced with mechanical valves or with bioprosthetic valves, which are made from animal tissue, are also at risk for endocarditis.
If you have a heart rhythm disorder that causes your heart to beat too quickly, your doctor may prescribe a beta blocker. These medications inhibit the effects of hormones, such as adrenaline, which are responsible for the “fight or flight” response to stress. By slowing heart rate, beta blockers help control arrhythmias and manage symptoms of heart failure and coronary artery disease.
Diuretics may be prescribed for people with heart failure, which can cause fluids to build up in the body. These medications allow the kidneys to work more efficiently and eliminate excess water and salt through urination. This helps to reduce swelling and shortness of breath and allows the heart to pump blood more easily.
Because these medications can cause a potassium deficiency, your doctor may prescribe potassium supplements.
If you’re experiencing heart failure, your doctor may prescribe angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, or ACE inhibitors. By blocking angiotensin, a hormone that can damage the heart, these medications can help prevent further weakening of the heart.
Angiotensin II receptor blockers help relax blood vessels to reduce blood pressure. They also reduce the buildup of salt and water in people with symptoms of heart failure.
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