Managing heart medication

Medication is important for preventing and treating heart conditions. It can also help relieve symptoms of heart conditions.

In this article

Medication can: 

  • reduce your risk of having a heart attack or other heart event
  • stop your heart condition getting worse, or slow the progress of the disease
  • reduce symptoms caused by your heart condition and improve your quality of life
  • reduce your risk of hospital stays
  • help you live longer.

You may be prescribed medication, even when you don't have heart disease. This is because you are at higher risk of developing it, maybe because you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Along with lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and healthy eating, taking this medication could help reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

If you’ve already been diagnosed with a heart condition, medication can reduce your symptoms, improve your quality of life and help you live longer.

Types of heart medication

Learn about your heart medication

When you're prescribed heart medication it’s important to find out as much information about it as you can. You'll need to know:

  • what your medication is called and why it's been prescribed for you
  • how and when to take your medication
  • possible unwanted, first-time side effects, and what to do if you have them
  • if there any other medications, supplements or herbal remedies that you can’t take with this medication.

Read our handy list of questions to ask your pharmacist or doctor if you need more help with this.

Keep a list of medications

It's a good idea to keep a list of all the medications that you take.

The list should include:

  • medicines your doctor or nurse has prescribed for you including, pills, ointments, inhalers (puffers) and patches
  • medicines you’ve bought from a shop or the internet (this will include things like pain relief medication or cold and flu tablets etc.)
  • vitamins or supplements or other complementary medicines or herbal remedies.

It should also have information about how much of each medication you should take, when you should take it, possible medication side effects and any allergies you might have.

Medications yellow card

If you've been in hospital, you may have been given a yellow card with a list of your current medications.

This is a system used throughout New Zealand, which helps people and their health professionals keep track of their current medications.

If you don’t have one, talk to your local pharmacist about helping you create one.

Yellow card for medication

Emergency wallet card

You may also want to keep a short list of your regular medications in your wallet or handbag in case of emergencies.

Emergency wallet card with space for emergency contact details

Cost of medication

Often you will have to pay a small charge when you collect a prescription. This cost may vary depending on the medication you've been prescribed. The cost may also differ from pharmacy to pharmacy. If you have more than one local pharmacy, it can be worth checking with both to see which is cheaper.

The Government runs a prescription subsidy scheme for individuals and families who are prescribed a lot of medication. Once you or your family has paid for 20 new prescription items in one year, any further prescriptions will be free until the following year. Talk to your pharmacist if you think this scheme could apply to you.

If you meet the criteria, a Community Services Card may help reduce the cost of prescriptions.

If you've visited your GP more than 12 times in a year, you may be eligible for a High Use Health Card. This can reduce your fees for prescriptions and GP visits.

Some online pharmacies provide medication deliveries to your door. Some companies also offer free or reduced prescription charges for people on multiple medications.

Remember to take your medication

Sometimes it can be hard to remember to take your medication, especially when you’re first prescribed it. Here are some tips that can help.

  • Make it part of your daily routine. For example, take your morning pills before you get in the shower or when you put the kettle on. Try taking your evening ones just before you brush your teeth.
  • Set a daily alarm. Try setting your phone, alarm clock or computer to remind you each day.
  • Make a wallchart. Having a chart on the wall that you mark off can be a good visual reminder. Or use a calendar.
  • Use a medication tracker app. There is a range of medication reminder apps available for both iPhone and Android. Check the App Store or Google Play.
  • Get a blister pack or weekly pill box (see below).

Multiple medications

If you're on a lot of medication, you could ask your pharmacist to put your pills into blister packs (also called calendar packs).  

A blister pack has plastic pockets with space for the pills and a foil backing that indicates the time and day you need to take them (e.g. lunchtime, dinner time).

Pill blister pack

Or, you could use a pillbox with the days of the week on it, if you want to sort your medication at home.

Pillbox with days of the week

Medication safety

Follow the directions

Make sure you read the instructions on the bottle or packet. If you're not sure about any of the information ask your pharmacist for help.

Always take your medication as it is described on the bottle or packet.

Don't share

Never share your prescription medication with someone else, and never take somebody else's medication.

This is important even when you have the same condition as somebody else.

Doctors decide which medication is best for you according to several different factors including your personal health history, other illnesses, side effects you experience and your lifestyle. A medication that works well for a family/whānau member may not work well for you.

Storage 

Store your medicine in a cool dry place.

Always keep your medicine out of the sight and reach of children and pets.

Don't leave your medicine in the bathroom or on a windowsill in sunlight. Warmth and steam can damage the medication.

Keep your medicine in its original packaging to protect it and so you know how much you've taken.

Return old medication 

Don't take medicines that have changed colour or look or smell different. If you have medicine that is past its use-by date or is leftover, return it to your pharmacist who will dispose of it safely.

Dealing with side effects

Sometimes medication causes unwanted side effects.  

Often side effects you have when you first start your medication will go away with time.  

However, it's important to tell your doctor about any side effects that are bothering you. Your doctor may be able to change the dose or put you on a different medication. 

Never stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor first. 

Ring 111 if you have any of the following: 

  • severe chest pain
  • severe headache
  • sudden shortness of breath
  • swelling of your mouth, lips or tongue, as this could be an allergic reaction.
Learn about types of heart medications

Over-the-counter medications, complementary and alternative therapies

Talk to your pharmacist or doctor before you take over-the-counter medications, like cold and flu tablets and anti-inflammatories. Some heart medications interact with some over-the-counter medications. This means your heart medication might not work as well or you might get more side effects.  

It’s also important to tell your health professionals before taking any: 

  • supplements
  • natural medicines
  • vitamins
  • alternative therapies.

These can sometimes make your heart medications work less well.

Renewing medication 

Set yourself a reminder on your calendar or on your phone to renew your medication two weeks before it runs out. 

Find out if you can review your medication over the phone or online, and check if there is an extra charge for this. 

Some pharmacists now offer free delivery of your medications to your door.

Difficulty taking medication

Some people have trouble swallowing their medication. Here are some tips that can help. 

  • Have a mouthful of water before you swallow the tablet (a dry mouth makes swallowing harder).
  • Make sure you place the tablet in the centre of your tongue and if the tablet is oval-shaped, put it longways on your tongue.
  • Immediately take a mouthful of water to wash the tablet into your throat.
  • Some people find it helpful to use a straw to drink the water (the suction can help the tablet go down).
  • Try taking the tablet with a spoonful of yoghurt or smoothie.
  • Have a few mouthfuls of water after you’ve swallowed the tablet to help it go down.

If you or the person you care for struggles to swallow their tablets, you could ask the doctor or pharmacist if it’s available in another form, such as a liquid.

Never crush or chew a tablet without talking to your doctor or pharmacist first. Some tablets release the medication over a long period of time – crushing them can result cause serious complications.

Driving with medications

Most long-term heart medications won't stop you from driving, but it is still important to check with your doctor or pharmacist when you start a new prescription. 

Medications used during heart procedures or surgery may prevent you from driving in the short term. Talk to your doctor about when you're safe to drive again.

Travelling with medications 

Make sure you have enough medication to last your whole trip. 

Ask your doctor or pharmacist for an updated list of all your medications to keep in your wallet when you travel. You may need this at Customs or if you need emergency medical care while you’re away. Make sure the list includes all the names written on the pill bottle or packet (sometimes there will be the type of medication, as well as the name of the brand). 

If you're travelling by plane carry your medication in your hand luggage. Some people also like to include spare medication and an extra medication list in their hold luggage, as back-up. 

If you need to take liquid medications of more than 100ml in your hand luggage, you’ll require a letter from your doctor.  

If you’re travelling through time zones talk to your doctor about when to take your tablets.

Questions for your health professionals

Here are some questions that you may like to ask your doctor about any new medications that you're prescribed. 

  • What medications have you given me? 
  • Why is it important that I take this? 
  • What are the risks if I don’t take this medication? 
  • What does this medication do to my body? 
  • What do I need to know about taking these pills? e.g. unwanted side effects, instructions on how and when to take them? 
  • How long will I need to take it for? 
  • How will I know if the medication is working? 
  • What do I do if I miss a dose? 
  • What checks are needed when I take these pills? 
  • Do all my medications work well together?

You may get a lot of information about a new medication, so take a pen and paper to write the information down or ask the doctor if you can record the conversation on your phone.

A support person can help you record all the information and/or support you to feel more at ease.

Types of heart medication