Pharmacists can help patients understand, manage their heart medications

One to One

When it comes to cardiovascular disease, the statistics are staggering. The disease is the leading global cause of death, accounting for 17.3 million deaths per year, according to the American Heart Association. Around 2,150 Americans die each day from heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases, one every 40 seconds, the association reported.

As one of the most accessible health care providers, pharmacists have the opportunity to counsel patients about preventing cardiovascular disease and helping them understand the importance of adhering to medications to improve heart health. 

“Pharmacists can help their patients focus on the ABCS: aspirin when appropriate, blood pressure control, cholesterol management, and smoking cessation,” said Ray Bullman, Executive Vice President of the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE).

High blood pressure

As the nation’s population ages, more patients will have comorbidities associated with cardiovascular disease. The top dyad and triad of multiple chronic diseases involves high blood pressure, according to NCPIE. The leading chronic disease dyad for men and women is high blood pressure plus arthritis. The leading chronic disease triad for men and woman is arthritis, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

NCPIE has partnered with the American Heart Association’s Check. Change. Control. Leadership Community to increase awareness of the connection between high blood pressure and risk of heart attack and stroke. The initiative’s goal is to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20% while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20% by 2020. 

The community brings together health care and community health leaders to find ways to help Americans improve their cardiovascular health. For more information or to join the community, visit

Counseling patients

Pharmacists can play a key role in helping patients understand and manage high blood pressure. Pharmacists should encourage patients to make healthy lifestyle choices such as increasing physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing stress, limiting or avoiding alcohol, and quitting smoking. Pharmacists who are located in a grocery store setting can counsel patients about what ingredients to avoid and what nutrients are essential to a healthy heart. 

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower blood pressure, many medications on the market play an important role in treating cardiovascular disease. Pharmacists are the first person patients see when they receive a prescription for a medication. Pharmacists can counsel patients about dosing instructions, medication interactions, adverse effects, and the importance of medication adherence. 

Pharmacists can also provide blood pressure monitoring and cholesterol and glucose screenings, and they can teach patients how to interpret the test results. Pharmacists can also show patients how to use a home blood pressure monitor. 

OTC medication guidance

Pharmacists should provide patients with guidance about using the correct OTC medications. According to the American Heart Association, when combining OTC medications with blood pressure–lowering drugs, pharmacists should counsel patients to take the lowest amount of OTC medication for the shortest period of time. 

Pharmacists should counsel patients who are taking blood pressure medicine to pay attention to medication labels when looking for OTC cold or influenza medications. Many of these contain the nasal decongestant pseudoephedrine, which can increase blood pressure and heart rate, according to the American Heart Association. Patients who are taking blood pressure medications should also avoid antihistamines as well as OTC medications or supplements that contain caffeine. 

Medication adherence

NCPIE’s Be Medicine Smart campaign encourages patients with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease to stay adherent to their medications. 

Improved medication adherence will reduce the risk of future cardiovascular events, improve patient outcomes, and reduce overall health care costs. 

Pharmacists should encourage patients to visit to learn about the campaign’s adherence action agenda, find helpful educational tools and resources, and get the facts about chronic diseases and multiple chronic conditions.