Treatments for heart conditions

Different heart problems can be treated in different ways. You can read about some of the most common treatments.

About treatment for heart conditions

Different heart problems can be treated in different ways. You can read about some of the most common treatments below.

We have more information about:

Heart medicines

Medicines are often used to treat heart problems. They may also be used to help protect your heart during cancer treatment.

Your doctor or pharmacist can give you more information about your heart medicines. You can also get more detailed information from the British Heart Foundation.

ACE inhibitors

ACE inhibitors make your blood vessels relax and widen. This reduces the amount of work your heart has to do and can also lower your blood pressure. So, ACE inhibitors are used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure. They are also used after a heart attack.

Examples are enalapril, ramipril and lisinopril.

Angiotensin receptor antagonists (ARBs)

ARBs work in a similar way to ACE inhibitors. They relax and widen your blood vessels. They are used to high blood pressure and heart failure. They are also used after a heart attack.

Examples are candesartan, losartan and valsartan.

Beta blockers

Beta blockers work by slowing your heart rate, which means your heart has less work to do. They can help control angina and reduce the risk of a heart attack in people who have already had one. They can also be used to treat abnormal heart rhythms, heart failure and high blood pressure.

Examples are carvedilol, bisoprolol and atenolol.

Calcium channel blockers

These medicines reduce the amount of calcium entering the cells in the heart muscle and blood vessel walls. Calcium is needed to make the muscles and vessels contract. If there is less calcium the heart muscle and blood vessels relax. This can help lower blood pressure and treat angina.

Examples are amlodipine and diltiazem.

Cholesterol-lowering medicines (statins)

These medicines reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood. This can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Examples are simvastatin, atorvastatin and rosuvastatin.

Diuretics (water tablets)

Diuretics encourage the kidneys to make more urine, which is then passed out of the body. This reduces the amount of fluid and salts in the body, which can reduce the pressure on the heart muscle. Diuretics are used to treat heart failure and high blood pressure.

There are different types of diuretics which work in slightly different ways. Your doctor or pharmacist can tell you more about the type of diuretic you are taking.

Examples are bumetanide and furosemide.

Anti-platelet medicines

Platelets are cells in your blood that form clots to help stop bleeding. Anti-platelet medicines help to make the blood less sticky and reduce the risk of clots forming.

People who have a higher risk of heart attack or stroke may be given an anti-platelet medicine to help reduce the risk. This includes people with coronary heart disease, angina, or people who have had a previous heart attack or stroke.

Some types of chemotherapy may cause a low level of platelets in your blood. If this happens, your cardiologist and cancer doctor may suggest stopping the anti-platelet medicine for a time. You will have regular blood tests to check your platelet levels.

Examples are aspirin and clopidogrel.

Anticoagulants

Anticoagulants prevent harmful blood clots from forming, which can reduce the risk of a stroke. They are most commonly prescribed for people who have certain abnormal heart rhythms, or who have an artificial heart valve.

Examples are warfarin, apixiban, edoxaban and rivaroxaban.

Nitrates

Nitrates are used to treat angina. They relax the muscles in the walls of the coronary arteries. This improves the amount of blood that is supplied to the heart.

Examples are glyceryl trinitrate (GTN) and isosorbide mononitrate.

Heart procedures and surgery

Some heart problems can be treated with a procedure or surgery rather than medicines. This is always carried out by a specialist doctor, such as a cardiologist or a cardiothoracic surgeon. They will explain your treatment in detail, including possible risks and benefits.

Heart procedures and surgery are not always possible. It can depend on the heart problem and your general health. Sometimes the risks of a procedure or surgery are too high. Your doctor may suggest heart medicines or healthy lifestyle changes instead.

Your doctor will give you more information about these different treatments. You can also find out more about them on the British Heart Foundation website.

Angioplasty

If coronary heart disease has caused narrow arteries and symptoms of angina, this can be treated with a procedure called angioplasty. It is often done at the same time as an angiogram.

During angioplasty, the narrowed artery is widened using a small balloon. A small tube (stent) is then put into the artery. The stent helps to keep the artery open. The stent helps blood flow through the artery to the heart muscle.

Coronary bypass surgery

Coronary bypass surgery is used to treat coronary heart disease and angina. It involves bypassing a narrowed artery. The surgeon uses a small section of an artery or vein from another area of your body. They attach this above and below the narrow section of coronary artery.

Heart valve surgery

If you have a heart valve problem, it can affect how blood flows through your heart. You may be able to have an operation to repair or replace the valve.

Implanted electrical devices

Some people have surgery to implant an electrical device to treat certain heart conditions. There are different types of device, including:

  • pacemakers
  • implantable cardioverter
  • defibrillators (ICDs).

These can help treat electrical problems such as abnormal heart rhythms or a slow heartbeat. Sometimes pacemakers are used to treat heart failure because they can help improve the pumping action of the heart.

Cardioversion

This treatment aims to get an abnormal heart rhythm back to a normal pattern. Cardioversion involves giving the heart a controlled electric shock using electrodes that are placed on the chest. It is carried out in hospital so that the heart can be carefully monitored. You will be sedated so that you are asleep during the procedure.

Catheter ablation

Some types of abnormal rhythm can be treated using a procedure called catheter ablation.

During the procedure, a thin tube (catheter) is inserted into a vein or artery in your groin. The catheter is guided to the area in your heart that is causing the abnormal rhythm. Heat (radiofrequency) or extreme cold (cryoablation) is then given through the catheter. Doing this:

  • destroys the area of the heart muscle that triggers the abnormal rhythm
  • can break the abnormal electrical circuits in the heart.

About this information

Our information about heart health and cancer was developed in partnership with the British Heart Foundation.

If you have questions about your heart health, call the Heart Helpline on 0300 330 3311, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, or visit bhf.org.uk.