5 Medications That Spike Your Heart Disease Risk, According to Doctors

Whether you have a history of heart problems or not, these drugs could spell trouble.

Your heart is an incredibly complex and, as we know, extremely vital organ. Given its complexity, it stands to reason that all kinds of activities and habits can have an effect on the heart, and that cardiovascular troubles can manifest in vastly different ways. Signs of heart disease range from bad breath to excessive sweating, and the types of activities, habits, and lifestyle choices that affect your heart health are just as wide-ranging. Sitting down too much can increase the risk of heart disease—and so can working at night and spending too much time alone.

Medication can also affect your heart health, and it's important to know which drugs might spike your risk and to keep an open dialogue about it with your physician. "Several medications may increase the risk of heart damage or exacerbate existing heart damage," warns Michelle Llamas, BCPA, a patient advocate with Drugwatch who recommends speaking to your doctor about all the medications you take and whether you—or a family member—have heart conditions. "Depending on the risk versus benefit of these drugs for your specific health needs, your medical provider may still recommend you take them or recommend alternatives," she says. Read on to find out more.

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Nasal decongestants

Woman opening a bottle of nasal spray outdoors.
Mykola Sosiukin/iStock

"Often, nasal decongestants contain ingredients that tighten your blood vessels," says Sony Sherpa, MD, who specializes in holistic medicine. "Chronic use of these drugs may lead to blood pressure and heart problems."

One ingredient in question is pseudoephedrine, which is found in nasal decongestants such as Sudafed. "Over the years, there have been reports of heart attacks, strokes, disturbed heart rhythms, and other cardiovascular problems linked with use of pseudoephedrine," explains Harvard Health. "If you have high blood pressure and need to take pseudoephedrine you should have your blood pressure checked more often."

Diabetes medications

Various treatments and tools for diabetes.

One way that Type 2 diabetes drugs work is by increasing "the amounts of certain natural substances that lower blood sugar when it is high," says MedlinePlus, which notes that sitagliptin is not used to treat Type 1 diabetes. However, Llamas warns that sitagliptin—as well as other Type 2 diabetes drugs including metformin, saxagliptin, and rosiglitazone, also known as Avandia, "can spike your risk of cardiovascular problems.  "Avandia, in particular, could increase the risk of heart attack and heart failure," says Llamas.

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Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Aspirin and Advil pill bottles and pills.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), better known as aspirin, Advil, and Motrin, among others, are extremely popular. "These drugs are common pain and fever relievers," explains the Cleveland Clinic. "Every day millions of people choose an NSAID to help them relieve headache, body aches, swelling, stiffness and fever."f

But prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) NSAIDs can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. "NSAIDs promote water and sodium retention, impeding good blood flow and stressing the heart," says Sherpa. "Due to this mechanism, NSAIDs also decrease the effectiveness of blood pressure meds, particularly diuretic drugs."

Anti-psychotic drugs

Capsule pills on a white background.

The way anti-psychotic drugs work is a matter up for some debate, according to different researchers. "Some scientists believe that some psychotic experiences are caused by your brain producing too much of a chemical called dopamine," explains Mind: "Most antipsychotic drugs are known to block some of the dopamine receptors in the brain [and] this reduces the flow of these messages, which can help to reduce your psychotic symptoms." Other possible ways these drugs can work is by affecting other brain chemicals, as well. "Antipsychotics can lead to stroke, cardiac arrest or abnormal heart rhythms," says Llamas. "Risperidone, haloperidol and chlorpromazine are on this list."

Certain cancer drugs

Doctor sitting with a cancer patient.

"Cardiotoxicity is a serious adverse effect of many conventional chemotherapy agents," Sonia Amin Thomas, PharmD, BCOP wrote in an article published by US Pharmacist. She explains that cardiotoxicity refers to when there is damage to the heart muscle that is caused by medication; it is "a known adverse effect of many conventional chemotherapeutic agents." One of these agents, taxane, works by stopping cell division, thereby blocking the cell growth that occurs with cancer.

"Taxanes such as docetaxel and paclitaxel may also cause heart failure," warns Llamas, who notes that "cancer drugs in the anthracycline class can [also] cause damage to the heart muscle, leading to heart failure. These drugs include doxorubicin and epirubicin."

If you are starting cancer treatment with drugs that can have an adverse affect on your heart, "you may undergo heart function testing before starting treatment," advises the Mayo Clinic. "If you have a preexisting heart condition, such as cardiomyopathy, your doctor might suggest a different type of chemotherapy." The Mayo Clinic also notes that another option is to undergo heart monitoring during treatment, "depending on the type of chemotherapy you receive. Monitoring might continue after treatment, too," notes the site.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Luisa Colón
Luisa Colón is a writer, editor, and consultant based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, Latina, and many more. Read more
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