In the early stages of cardiovascular disease (CVD), treatment typically focuses on lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes are aimed at reversing, slowing, or stopping the progression of the disease. If lifestyle changes are not effective, your doctor may advise that you take medication. Surgery may be needed in more severe cases.

Lifestyle Changes

Your doctor may advise that you make these lifestyle changes:

  • Quit smoking—If you smoke, talk to your doctor about strategies to quit. There are many options, like online programs, smoking cessation drugs, and counseling. Quitting smoking has an immediate positive effect on the body.
  • Eat healthy foods—Changing your diet can help reduce your risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and excess body weight. Your doctor may also advise you to eat a diet that is low in fat and sodium.
  • Become more active—Even though you have been diagnosed with CVD, exercise is still important to your overall health. Work closely with your doctor to create a safe exercise program for you.
  • Drink only in moderation—Moderation is a maximum of 2 drinks per day for men and a maximum of 1 drink per day for women.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.—A healthy weight can help keep your CVD under control. If you need to lose weight, talk with your doctor, who can teach you safe strategies to lose weight.

Medications

Medications are often used alone or in combination to treat or control cardiovascular conditions. Talk to your doctor about side effects and possible interactions with food, herbs and supplements, and other medications you are taking.

The following list provides information on medications that your doctor may prescribe if you have been diagnosed with CVD.

Antiarrhythmics

These drugs work to stabilize the electrical conduction system of the heart. Your doctor will decide which type of medication to prescribe depending on the type and severity of your arrhythmias, your symptoms, and your overall health.

Antianginals

These medications alleviate or prevent angina. Antianginals does this by helping to restore the balance between the heart’s supply and demand of oxygen.

Anticoagulants

Anticoagulants are used to prevent stroke and heart attack in people who are at an increased risk due to heart conditions or heart surgery. Anticoagulants prevent clots from forming or inhibit existing clots from growing. But, these medications cannot dissolve clots that already exist.

Medications to Treat Heart Failure

These medications are designed to increase the amount of blood the heart can eject with each beat. Your doctor may prescribe one or a combination of these medications.

Thrombolytic Agents

Thrombolytic agents are used to dissolve clots that have formed in blood vessels. They are administered during heart attacks to dissolve the clot and restore blood flow to the affected heart muscle.

Other Medications

Medication may be used to treat conditions that increase the risk of CVD. The same medicine may also be used as part of CVD treatment. It may include:

  • High blood pressure medications
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs
  • Diabetes medication
  • Antiplatelet medication

Procedures

Procedures may be surgical or nonsurgical. They are a common part of treatment for heart and blood vessel disease. The procedures may be scheduled based on test results or earlier treatment. It may also be done as part of emergency care for an urgent heart or blood flow problem.

Procedures to treat CVD include:

Cardioversion

Cardioversion is done to correct an abnormal heartbeat. It can be done gradually with medicine if the problem is not severe. Some abnormal rhythms can be life-threatening. These will need a more immediate form of cardioversion. An electrical charge is delivered to the heart through electrodes or paddles placed on the chest. It gives the electrical system in the heart a chance to reset itself.

Carotid Endarterectomy

Carotid endarterectomy is the removal of plaque from the carotid artery. This artery carries blood to the brain. It can reduce the risk of a stroke in patients who have had transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). The artery on either side is cut open, cleaned, and closed with stitches. A stent may also be left in place to help prop open the artery.

Coronary Angioplasty

Coronary angioplasty can open up blood flow in blocked coronary artery. A wire is inserted into blood vessel in groin or other area. The wire is passed up to blocked arteries on the heart. A balloon is quickly inflated and deflated to open pathway in the blood vessels.

Coronary Stenting

Coronary stenting is done along with coronary angioplasty. A stent is left in place where the artery was widened. It will help keep the artery open for blood flow. The stent may have some medication in it to prevent blood clots from forming in the area.

Coronary Artery Bypass Graft

Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) is a surgery that moves blood flow around blockages. A section of blood vessel is removed from another area of the body. It is attached above and below a blockage in the artery of the heart. The blood will be able to travel around blockage through the graft and improve blood flow to the heart.

Femoropopliteal Bypass Surgery

Like CABG, this surgery uses a graft to move blood flow around blockages in an artery. The femoropopliteal bypass surgery bypasses a blocked artery in the leg. It will improve blood flow to the lower leg and foot.

Heart Valve Replacement

Damaged heart valves can cause problems with blood flow inside the heart. It can also increase the risk for blood clots. A heart valve replacement puts biologic or mechanical valves in place of damaged valves. It may be done with an open or minimally invasive surgery.

Heart-lung Transplant

Heart-lung transplant may be needed for extremely diseased and damaged lungs and heart. They will be replaced with organs from a donor. It will require life-long medication to keep the body from rejecting organs.

Heart Transplant

A heart transplant may be needed for extremely diseased and damaged heart. It is usually done for patients whose heart failure is life-threatening and when other treatments have failed. It will require life-long medication to keep the body from rejecting organs.

Pacemaker Insertion

A pacemaker is needed when the heart's electrical system no longer works properly. It can send an electrical impulse when the heart falls into an abnormal rhythm. The pacemaker sits in a pocket just under the skin. It is often inserted just beneath the collarbone. Wires from the pacemaker are connected to the heart. Minor procedures will be needed to change batteries or pacemaker itself.

Biventricular Pacemaker

This type of pacemaker is used to treat heart failure. It sends tiny electrical impulses to the heart to help coordinate the pumping of the chambers of the heart. It helps the heart pump more blood without extra work. It can reduce the symptoms of heart failure.

Implantable Defibrillator

An implantable defibrillator is similar to a pacemaker. It is implanted in a similar way. However, a defibrillator is used to reset the heart when a life-threatening arrhythmia starts. This rhythm is called ventricular fibrillation (V-fib). It means the heart cannot pump blood out to the body. There is a high risk of heart attack and death with V-fib.

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Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board  Last Updated: 1/29/2021