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Genital Herpes Health Center

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The 10 Most Important Drugs

These breakthrough drugs made medicine modern.

9) Birth Control Pills

Oral contraceptives changed the world, Benet says. Other experts agree. By giving women control over their reproductive system, these drugs had far-reaching medical and social impact.

10) Help for the Heart

Heart patients today owe a lot to two breakthrough drugs: Lanoxin (digoxin) and Lasix (furosemide, also sold as Lo-Aqua).

"Digoxin makes the list, because a lot of people with heart failure would be dead without it," Stone says.

"I had digoxin originally, but I will go with furosemide [Lasix, Lo-Aqua], one of the first loop diuretics -- water pills -- which is still a very important drug for hypertension and heart failure," Benet says. "Heart disease is so important, and furosemide made a major breakthrough. We have better drugs today, but that was the breakthrough in terms of really being effective. We have so many drugs for congestive heart failure now, but a lot of patients can be treated effectively with cheap diuretics."

In terms of preventing heart disease, the new cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins promise to have a huge impact. One of the first of these drugs, Lipitor, makes Benet's list because of its "profound impact on cholesterol lowering."

Other experts say the statins are too new -- with too short a track record -- to put on the same list as penicillin.

More Great Drugs

Every expert who spoke with WebMD has a different list of favorite drugs. Here are some of the notables:

  • L-dopa. "When it came out it was such a wonder drug for people with Parkinson's disease," Stone says. "In the latter stages, these people are completely unable to move. But give them a shot of L-dopa and they are walking in 15-20 minutes. ... And it is important also for confirming what we knew about the mechanisms of the disease. … We soon will see major advances in Parkinson's treatment. And this is because of the initial success of L-dopa."
  • Steroids. "Hydrocortisone and other corticosteroids have an enormous range of uses any time control of inflammation and the immune system is needed," Stone says. "There would be a lot of people with a lot of problems if we didn't have this drug."
  • Viagra. This was a controversial choice. Most experts said they couldn't bring themselves to put Viagra or other drugs to treat sexual dysfunction on the same list as lifesaving medicines. But Stone makes a persuasive case. "Most people would agree a close physical relationship is fundamental to a good quality of life. Yet there are millions of men around the world unable to have sexual activity," he says. "It is creating a huge improvement in these men's quality of life. It has to be on the list."
  • The Capsule. Once upon a time, a doctor's prescription came as a powder that had to be measured out and dissolved in water or alcohol. This caused not just inconvenience but frequent errors resulting in over- or under-doses. Then Dr. Upjohn created the gelatin capsule. "This allowed individual dosing," Benet says. "It predates the tablet. It is the beginning of individualization in the way we treat patients."
  • Cyclosporine. Cyclosporine is the first drug to shut down the immune system. "With the advent of cyclosporine you have an effective transplant drug," Benet says. "That allowed transplants to live and not be rejected by the body."
  • HIV Drugs. Benet nominates the class of HIV drugs known as protease inhibitors. They aren't the first AIDS drugs. But by combining protease inhibitors with other kinds of AIDS drugs, doctors found that they could keep HIV levels so low that patients did not get AIDS. The only reason more experts didn't vote for HIV drugs is that they're saving a place on the list for the still-undiscovered drug that actually cures AIDS.
  • Ritalin. Greenberg votes for Ritalin as the drug that showed millions of kids with ADHD could have normal childhoods.

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