A quick guide to common medications for first aiders

In this first aid blog post we’ll look at some of the common medications which first aiders and first responders may encounter when dealing with patients. Having a basic knowledge of medication used to treat common medical conditions can help a first aider perform a thorough patient assessment.

Respiratory System

Bronchodilators: relax muscles in airway walls to make the airway lumen bigger. These are usually administered by inhalation by means of a metered dose inhaler or nebulised.

Β-Agonists: Salbutamol (short acting), Salmeterol (long acting)

Anti-muscarinics: Ipratropium Bromide (short acting but slow onset of action)

Used for: Asthma, COPD, chest infections

Steroids (often end in –one): these have anti-inflammatory properties by altering genetic information inside cells. They may be given inhaled by metered-dose inhaler, or orally in tablet form.

Beclometasone, budesonide, fluticasone (inhaled)

Prednisolone (oral)

Used for: Chronic lung diseases e.g. asthma, COPD

Cardiovascular System

Anti-hypertensives Used to reduce blood pressure

Β-Blockers (end in –olol): reduce heart rate and power of cardiac muscle contraction

Propranolol, Atenolol

Also used for Angina and heart failure

ACE Inhibitors (end in –pril): reduce angiotensin II which causes blood vessels to relax

Captopril, enalapril

Also used for heart failure

Angiotensin II antagonist: reduces angiotensin II whichcauses blood vessels to relax


Calcium channel blockers (often end in –ipine): reduce pumping power of heart muscle

Nifedipine, Amlodipine, verapamil

Also used for angina

Diuretics (often end in –ide) : act on kidney to remove water from the body

Bendroflumethiazide, bumetanide, furosemide, spironolactone, acetazolomide

Also used for heart failure

Anti-Anginal Drugs

Β-blockers – see above

Calcium channel blockers –see above

Nitrates – dilate blood vessels (arteries and veins)

Short acting: Glyceryl TriNitrate (GTN)

Long acting: Isosorbide Mononitrate (ISMN), Isosorbide Dinitrate

Antiplatelets: prevent blood from clotting

Aspirin, clopidogrel


These are generally very complicated, and first aiders won’t come across most of them very often. One important one though is Digoxin which increases the force of cardiac contraction. It is used to treat Atrial Fibrillation (AF) and Heart Failure. Digoxin can also cause dangerous arrhythmias in high amounts.

Anti-cholesterol drugs

Statins: decrease the production of cholesterol in the liver

Simvastatin, pravastatin

Nervous System

Anti-Anxiety drugs

Benzodiazepines (end –epam): increase the inhibitory activity in the brain using a neurotransmitter called GABA. This slows and calms things down in the brain.

Diazepam, lorazepam


Benzodiazepines: Different benzodiazepines are used for hypnotic/anti-anxiety effects. This is because they last for different amounts of time. These drugs can be very addictive. 

Temazepam, nitrazepam


Tricyclic antidepressants (often end –yline or –amine): increase amount of serotonin and noradrenaline (excitatory chemicals in the brain (speed things up))

Amitryptiline, Imipramine, Lofepramine

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): increase amount of serotonin in the brain (see above)

Fluoxetine, Citalopram, Escitalopram

Serotonin Noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): increase amount of serotonin and noradrenaline in the brain (see above)


Antiepileptic drugs

These have various mechanisms of action. Common drugs include:

Carbamazepine, Valproate, Phenytoin, Phenobarbitol

Analgesics –painkillers

Opioid analgesics: act on the opioid receptor in the brain, releasing endorphins and enkephalins (make you happy)

Strong: morphine sulphate, diamorphine (heroin), methadone (used to treat addiction), fentanyl

Moderate/weak: codeine, dihydrocodeine, pethidine, tramadol

Gastrointestinal System

Drugs to treat peptic ulcers

Antacids : reduce the acidity of the stomach

Sodium Hydrochloride, Calcium Carbonate, Magnesium Hydroxide, Aluminium Hydroxide

Proton Pump inhibitors (end in –azole): reduce acid being pumped into the stomach

Omeprazole, Lansoprazole

Antihistamines (end in –idine): reduce acid being pumped into the stomach

Cimetidine, Ranitidine


Bulk Laxatives: increase bulk in the faeces


Osmotic Laxatives: increase amount of water in faeces

Magnesium sulphate, Lactulose

Stimulant Laxatives: increase the action of muscles in the gut wall, propelling faeces through the bowel

Senna, Docusate

Antiemetics: prevent vomiting. Always given with opioid analgesics, as vomiting is a side effect. They act on the chemoreceptor trigger zone in the brain, which is where vomiting is activated.

Metoclopramide, Ondansetron, Hyoscine, Cyclizine

Thyroid drugs

Thyroid hormones : for underactive thyroid

Levothyroxine, Liothyronine     

Antithyroids : for overactive thyroids

Carbimazole, Propylthiouracil

Antidiabetic agents

Oral antidiabetic drugs: act on insulin producing cells in the pancreas to increase amount of insulin secreted

Metformin, glicazide,

Insulin (long  – Lantus and short acting- Humulin/Humalog/novorapid/actrapid)

John Furst

JOHN FURST is an experienced emergency medical technician and qualified first aid and CPR instructor. John is passionate about first aid and believes everyone should have the skills and confidence to take action in an emergency situation.

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