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Cardiovascular Pharmacology Concepts

Richard E. Klabunde, PhD

Clinical Disorders:

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The Pharmacologic Treatment of Myocardial Infarction

Rationale for Drug Therapy in Myocardial Infarction

Rationale for Pharmacologic Treatment
    of Myocardial Infarction


Improve Myocardial Oxygen
    Supply/Demand Ratio

  • Improve coronary blood flow
    - dilate coronaries (inhibit vasospasm)
    - coronary thrombolysis
    - inhibit coagulation and platelet function
  • Decrease myocardial oxygen consumption
    ↓ heart rate
    ↓ contractility
    ↓ afterload
    ↓ preload

Pain Management

  • Analgesic drugs

Control Heart Rhythm

  • Suppress arrhythmias

Inhibit Cardiac Remodeling

  • Inhibit sympathetic activity
  • Inhibit cardiac effects of angiotensin II

The most important goal of drug therapy early in acute myocardial infarction is to improve the oxygen supply/demand ratio for the heart. The reduction in this ratio that occurs when coronary flow is compromised is the primary reason cardiac function is impaired, which leads to the clinical signs associated with myocardial infarction. There are two strategies to improve the coronary supply/demand ratio: 1) restore normal coronary blood flow, and 2) decrease myocardial oxygen consumption.

Restoring Normal Coronary Blood Flow

The two major approaches for restoring normal cardiac perfusion are 1) percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (PCTA) and insertion of an intracoronary stent, and 2) administering a thrombolytic drug to induce clot lysis. Both procedures include anticoagulant drugs to inhibit new clot formation. Patients are also treated with anti-platelet drugs, which help to prevent recurrent thrombosis. Because coronary vasospasm can also contribute to reduced perfusion, vasodilators such as nitroglycerine are often given to prevent or reverse vasospasm.

Decreasing Myocardial Oxygen Consumption

Myocardial oxygen demand can be decreased by decreasing 1) heart rate, 2) contractility (inotropy), 3) ventricular afterload, and 4) ventricular preload. Because the heart is being stimulated by increased sympathetic activity and circulating catecholamines during infarction, drugs such as beta-blockers that inhibit sympathetic activity (sympatholytics) are commonly given. Systemic vasodilators are sometimes given to reduce systemic vascular resistance; however, care must be taken not to cause hypotension because this would reduce coronary perfusion pressure and blood flow. Finally, venous dilator drugs such as nitroglycerin are used to reduce ventricular preload, which reduces oxygen demand.

Other Drugs

Pain management is an important consideration because pain and associated anxiety stimulate sympathetic activity, which can be deleterious to the heart. Therefore, analgesic drugs such as morphine may be given in the acute setting to reduce pain. Morphine also has other beneficial effects as a vasodilator. Antiarrhythmic drugs are administered, particularly when there are serious ventricular rhythm disturbances. The administration of diuretic drugs depends on the severity of heart failure and fluid retention.

Long-Term Treatment

Because myocardial infarctions usually occur because of coronary artery disease, most patients are placed on long-term anti-platelet therapy to reduce vascular thrombosis. Most post-infarct patients are also treated with a beta-blocker because it blocks cardiac remodeling and reduces mortality following infarction. Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, aldosterone antagonists also have a similar beneficial effect on remodeling and mortality.

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Classes of Drugs Used to Treat Myocardial Infarction

Revised 08/30/22

DISCLAIMER: These materials are for educational purposes only, and are not a source of medical decision-making advice.