Heart failure continues to be one of the most significant health concerns of older Americans. Billions of dollars are spent on hospital bills and medications related to this condition, yet there is growing evidence that some medications thought critical for other conditions may be aggravating heart problems or even causing them in the first place. 1 These medications may increase your blood pressure, contain toxins that damage your heart, or weaken heart muscle tissue. That’s why, instead of risking your health with medications that have been shown to be harmful to the heart, it’s increasingly important to consider alternative solutions.
It’s important to note that cardiovascular health is only one of the many concerns associated with the variety of prescription medications recommended by the medical community today. Our team at the Alternative to Meds Center prioritizes finding alternate methods of addressing your mental health rather than turning to toxic medications that can only complicate the situation. Before you consider prescription medication, it’s crucial to consider what cardiovascular issues entail, how medications affect these issues, and whether your initial disorder can be treated via holistic methods.
Understanding Cardiovascular Issues
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the number one cause of death around the globe, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 2 CVDs are a group of problems involving the heart and related blood vessels. Heart attacks usually occur when there is a blockage in a vessel that prevents blood from flowing to the heart or brain. The most common reason this happens is due to a build-up of fatty deposits that rest on the inner walls of the vessels. Meanwhile, strokes primarily occur when a blood vessel in the brain is punctured in some way or when a blood clot forms and blocks blood from flowing.
Some of the most common CVDs to look out for include:
Coronary Heart Disease – This involves a problem with the blood vessels supporting the heart muscle.
Cerebrovascular Disease – Similar to coronary heart disease, this CVD involves the vessels supporting the brain instead.
Rheumatic Heart Disease – This occurs after damage to the heart muscle and valves from rheumatic fever.
Congenital Heart Disease – This is a birth defect that impacts the formation and functionality of the heart.
Deep Vein Thrombosis – DVT occurs when clots in the leg veins travel toward the heart or lungs.
In addition to these sources of cardiovascular issues, a variety of medications can negatively impact the way the heart and circulatory system function. Being aware of these medications can be key for preventing heart issues in those who have never experienced them and is a critical component of recovery after a cardiovascular event.
15 Years Experience by Professionals Who Understand Your Journey.
So, which drugs affect the cardiovascular system? There are, in fact, many medications that can either cause or worsen cardiovascular issues. We’ve listed some of the most common ones below.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medications
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can create a detrimental effect on platelet aggregation, which is a key aspect of how well platelets can bind together to form clots. These medications can also cause the body to retain excess water and sodium, which can increase the amount of force that is exerted on your blood as it travels throughout your body. NSAIDs that can negatively affect the heart include ibuprofen, ketorolac, and indomethacin. If you’re struggling with heart failure and are taking NSAIDs, the odds of having further complications can increase tremendously. 3
It may seem like antiarrhythmic medications would help for a heart condition, but these can actually increase your chances of heart failure. For example, medications containing sotalol are at the top of the list of what drugs cause heart irregularities, as they were found to be dangerous due to their negative effects on defibrillation energy requirements.4 If you are experiencing an irregular heart rate, you may want to consider other options instead of these medications.
Medications such as terazosin, prazosin, or other a1-blockers could cause your body to produce more aldosterone. Aldosterone is vital for managing the potassium and sodium concentrations in your blood. People who struggle with heart failure are also susceptible to erectile dysfunction (ED), and people with ED are often prescribed medications such as Viagra to resolve the issue. However, these medications widen the arteries throughout your body, which can drop your blood pressure. If you’re already having trouble with ED as well as heart failure, urological medications may aggravate your conditions, even making your blood pressure drop to a fatal level. 5
High Blood Pressure Medications
Sometimes, people ask us, “What medication can cause heart palpitations?” Often, the answer is medications that are intended to reduce blood pressure. These medications are intended to improve blood flow and accelerate it in some cases, but this can actually cause your heart to beat irregularly and interrupt blood flow completely. Worse, withdrawing from high blood pressure medications, particularly beta blockers, can cause heart palpitations and heart failure. 6
Psychotropic Medications and Heart Health
Mental health symptoms, including anxiety and depression, affect a growing number of adults – nearly 40% in the US alone. 7 As researchers continue to explore ways to address these symptoms and restore mental health, the pharmaceutical industry has created or repurposed for off-label use a number of drugs aimed at eliminating mental health symptoms. Unfortunately, these medications often worsen cardiovascular health.
For example, traditional antidepressants, including tricyclic and tetracyclic medications (also known as TCAs) like amitriptyline and nortriptyline, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI inhibitors) like phenelzine and isocarboxazid, have a history of causing a range of cardiovascular side effects including increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, arrhythmias, and even heart blocks. Since people with cardiac disease are statistically more likely to suffer from mental health symptoms, this presents a very real risk as these patients seek treatment for both conditions at once. Worse, TCA and MAOI inhibitors have caused multiple instances of arrhythmia and death in people with no history of cardiac disease.
While the newest antidepressant drugs – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs – come with a reduced risk of heart complications, they can cause narrowing of the blood vessels and should be used with extreme caution. Popular SSRIs include fluoxetine, citalopram, sertraline, and paroxetine. Additionally, antipsychotic drugs like quetiapine, risperidone, and clozapine can cause arrhythmia, blood pressure fluctuations, myocarditis, and heart failure. 8
Which Drug Has the Greatest Cardiovascular Risk?
We also want to take a moment to touch on alcohol, cannabis, and illicit substances briefly. These substances often exacerbate heart problems, and some cause the problem outright.
More specifically, cocaine has been nicknamed the “heart attack drug” in the past due to the fact that it can significantly increase blood pressure. In fact, it is the illegal drug that is most often associated with emergency visits and hospitalizations. Cocaine and other stimulants like methamphetamine can harden the aorta and thicken the heart’s ventricular walls. 9
Unfortunately, substances need not be illegal to present misuse and heart risks. For example, though it is currently a legal substance, alcohol leads to the largest number of emergency room visits and, when used excessively, can cause high blood pressure, arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy, and heart failure. Similarly, frequently misused prescription medications like opioid painkillers can cause arrhythmia, low blood pressure, and heart failure and are the fastest-rising cause of emergency visits. 10
The Need for Alternatives
As you can see, it is an unfortunate fact that many medications – even those that are advertised to resolve heart problems – can have a negative effect on your heart health. Worse, many of us are taking a veritable cocktail of prescription and over-the-counter medications intended to help with a range of conditions, only to learn that the side effects have caused serious, long-term issues of their own. So, what can be done to address this emerging medication toxicity?
While many of the above medications are considered essential for the treatment of various conditions, there are certainly other things you can do to reduce your reliance on them. As an added benefit, many of these options are inexpensive or free, which serves as a critical counterpoint to prohibitively expensive medications. They are also relatively simple to incorporate and can improve many facets of your health.
If you currently smoke or use tobacco, take time to understand the health benefits of quitting. The chemicals found in tobacco products and cigarettes can decrease how much oxygen is in your blood, which forces your heart to work harder to gather the oxygen it needs. When you quit smoking, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to circulate blood and nutrients to keep the body functional, meaning the heart can experience immediate benefits. There are many documented benefits when you quit smoking according to the Surgeon General’s recent review. 17
Take Natural Supplements
While some medications are known to complicate heart health, many natural supplements are still acceptable to take, and some may actually provide unique benefits.
For instance, fiber supplements are a great way to improve digestion, but they can also help lower cholesterol. 11 Omega-3 fatty acids are also known to increase the production of triglycerides, so you may consider supplementation. 12 Finally, as B vitamin and antioxidant levels are both typically low in people who have heart disease, researchers believe that supplements rich in folic acid and antioxidants can help protect against atherosclerosis (plaque deposits in the blood vessels that can lead to heart attacks and stroke). 13
However, it’s important to note that these supplements are beneficial for preventing heart disease, not treating existing heart disease. In addition, they should be considered alongside exercise and eating a healthy diet, both of which we’ll discuss below.
Eat a Healthy Diet
A diet consisting of mostly high-sodium or high-sugar foods can put your heart at risk for hypertension. Foods that are highly processed, including high trans fat or refined carbohydrates, can slowly wear down your blood vessels as well as result in diabetes. Include more vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and whole grains in your diet in order to keep your blood flow adequate and protect your heart. 18
Eating a healthy diet may also help you prevent or address certain physical and mental health symptoms. For example, a Mediterranean diet incorporating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals like fish, olive oil, and leafy vegetables can help you reduce inflammation and address leaky gut. Promoting proper gut health is essential while recovering from addiction and medication toxicity and for addressing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
Physicians frequently recommend exercise as an essential accompaniment for almost any physical or mental health condition. Not only does exercise help strengthen muscles, build endurance, and improve the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the cells – thus boosting the immune system – but it can also provide some key mental health benefits. Research demonstrates that exercise can help alleviate depression and anxiety, improve mood, boost self esteem, and even improve cognitive function. 14
People who are inactive are more likely to develop heart issues, but exercising at least 30 minutes a day can also lower your risk of cardiovascular problems. 15 This is because exercise improves your heart muscle, allowing it to pump blood more efficiently and also increasing the amount of oxygen throughout your body. Strenuous exercise isn’t necessary, as simply going for a walk or committing to strength training exercises can help reduce your risk of heart disease.
Attend Therapy or Counseling
While this may not be the first option you consider when it comes to improving your heart health, think about how managing your stress can not only improve your sleep habits but also reduce the stress on your heart. Research has found that the risk of heart disease increases by over 70% in people with depression. 16 If you experience depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, you may want to consider meeting with a therapist. This can help you begin to understand what triggers your mental health issues so you and your therapist can work together to determine how you can reduce your stress, improve your cardiovascular system, and limit your reliance on heart-harming medications.
How To Transition Safely
Thankfully, there are several methods you can discuss with your caregivers to address many common physical and mental health conditions besides medications that could pose a problem for your heart. However, if you’ve already been using medications and want to transition away from them, always perform this transition under the supervision of a licensed healthcare professional. If you need additional support, such as therapy, your physician should be able to direct you to a professional counselor or therapist. Never abruptly stop taking a medication you were prescribed, as doing so can cause health issues. Transitioning to alternative methods so you can reduce or eliminate your reliance on this medication should be done under the purview of your doctor.
After you’ve addressed your current medication regimen with your physician, introduce strategies like changes to your lifestyle and diet gradually. It would be wise to consult with a dietician or nutritionist who can assist you.
Alternative to Meds Center Is Here to Help
Many people suspect the medications they are taking for anxiety, depression, insomnia, or other conditions may be contributing to their cardiovascular issues, which is illustrated clearly by the number of times we are asked questions like, “What medications can cause atrial fibrillation?” and “Which group of medications will impact the heart rate?”
Such concerns are common, and you are not alone. Fortunately, even if you’re already taking drugs for mental health issues that are known to be dangerous to the heart, it isn’t too late.
Holistic and drug-free ways to improve mental health have existed for hundreds of years, and sometimes, we forget just how effective they are. Whether it’s exercising more regularly, eating less processed foods, or simply managing stress, there are holistic methods that can be helpful in these areas.
If you need help with the transition phase, have questions or concerns about the medications you are taking, or are interested in alternative mental health treatments in general, our team is here to help. For medication toxicity treatment, addiction treatment, or other services in or near the Sedona, AZ area, contact Alternative to Meds Center today. We provide a wide range of treatment methods for anyone looking for less toxic methods of managing their mental health without compromising their physical health.
Augustin, N., Alvarez, C., & Kluger, J. (2023). The Arrhythmogenicity of Sotalol and its Role in Heart Failure: A Literature Review.
Journal of cardiovascular pharmacology, 82(2), 86–92. https://doi.org/10.1097/FJC.0000000000001439
Terentes-Printzios, D., Ioakeimidis, N., Rokkas, K., & Vlachopoulos, C. (2022). Interactions between erectile dysfunction, cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular drugs. Nature Reviews Cardiology, 19(1), 59-74. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41569-021-00593-6
Wexler, R. K., Pleister, A., & Raman, S. V. (2017). Palpitations: Evaluation in the Primary Care Setting. American family physician, 96(12), 784–789.
Retrieved December 19, 2023, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29431371/
Marano, G., Traversi, G., Romagnoli, E., Catalano, V., Lotrionte, M., Abbate, A., Biondi-Zoccai, G., & Mazza, M. (2011).
Cardiologic side effects of psychotropic drugs. Journal of geriatric cardiology : JGC, 8(4), 243–253. https://doi.org/10.3724/SP.J.1263.2011.00243
Skulas-Ray, A. C., Wilson, P. W., Harris, W. S., Brinton, E. A., Kris-Etherton, P. M., Richter, C. K., … & Welty, F. K. (2019). Omega-3 fatty acids for the management of hypertriglyceridemia: a science advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 140(12), e673-e691.
Retrieved November 1, 2023, from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000709
Shah, A. K., & Dhalla, N. S. (2021). Effectiveness of some vitamins in the prevention of cardiovascular disease: a narrative review.
Frontiers in Physiology, 12, 729255. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2021.729255
Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health.
Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 8(2), 106. https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a
El Baou, C., Desai, R., Cooper, C., Marchant, N. L., Pilling, S., Richards, M., … & Stott, J. (2023). Psychological therapies for depression and cardiovascular risk: evidence from national healthcare records in England. European Heart Journal, 44(18), 1650-1662.
Retrieved November 1, 2023, from https://academic.oup.com/eurheartj/article/44/18/1650/7097470?login=true
United States Public Health Service Office of the Surgeon General; National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (US) Office on Smoking and Health. Smoking Cessation: A Report of the Surgeon General [Internet]. Washington (DC): US Department of Health and Human Services; 2020. Chapter 4, The Health Benefits of Smoking Cessation. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK555590/
Lyle Murphy is the founder of the Alternative to Meds Center, a licensed residential program that helps people overcome dependence on psychiatric medication and addiction issues using holistic and psychotherapeutic methods.
Medical Disclaimer: Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.
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