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Heart Diseases

New Drug And Diagnostic Therapies

The conventional treatment for cardiovascular disease includes specific therapy for any underlying causes and may also include drugs such as ACE inhibitors (e.g., captopril, enalapril, lisinopril), blood thinners (e.g., aspirin, warfarin), the combination of hydralazine and isosorbide dinitrate, digitalis, nitroglycerin, diuretics, and beta-blockers (e.g., propranolol). The last few decades of the twentieth century have also seen the introduction of numerous drugs which prolong life and activity for individuals with heart disease. Beta blockers are used to treat angina, high blood pressure, and arrhythmia. They are also given to individuals who have had heart attacks. These drugs block the neurohormone norepinephrine from stimulating the organs of the body. This makes the heart beat more slowly and slows the dilation of certain blood vessels.

Another important class of drugs for the treatment of heart disease is the vasodilators, which cause blood vessels to dilate, or increase in diameter. These drugs, including the so-called ACE inhibitors, are used to ease the symptoms of angina by easing the work of the heart, to forestall complete congestive heart failure, and to prolong life in people who have had heart attacks.

A third important type of drug reduces cholesterol in the blood. The process by which these drugs eliminate cholesterol from the blood varies, but several work by preventing the reabsorption of bile salts by the body. Bile salts play a role in digestion, and they contain cholesterol.

Diagnostic advances have also made a difference in the treatment of heart disease. Cardiac catheterization enables doctors to see how the heart works without surgery. The process, which was first explored in humans in 1936, involves sending a tube through an existing blood vessel and filling the tube with a contrast material that can be tracked as it circulates through the heart. In 1992, a total of 1,084,000 of these procedures were performed to diagnose heart problems.

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