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Understanding Blood Pressure Medications

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By Jasmine A. Stone

Uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension) can lead to serious, and sometimes even life-threatening, health problems and disease. Atherosclerosis, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, kidney damage and eye damage can all be the result of uncontrolled high blood pressure.

Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment significantly improves the outlook for most hypertensive patients. While lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, losing weight and increasing activity levels, can help to reduce blood pressure, some people may need medication to control their hypertension and reduce the risk of future health problems.

ACE Inhibitors

ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors are one of the most commonly prescribed medications for hypertensive patients. ACE inhibitors work by preventing the production of angiotensin in the body.

Angiotensin causes the blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow around the body and causing a rise in blood pressure. ACE inhibitors allow blood vessels to dilate, resulting in a reduction of blood pressure. In addition, ACE inhibitors can improve blood flow to the kidneys, helping the body to eliminate excess salt and fluid through the urine. Side-effects can include tiredness and a dry cough, although most people notice the side-effects lessen over time.

Angiotensin Blockers

Angiotensin blockers work in a similar way to ACE inhibitors. However, in addition to preventing the production of angiotensin and increasing blood flow to the kidneys, angiotensin blockers can help to decrease thirst, leading to a reduction in fluid intake.

Angiotensin blockers are not commonly prescribed, as they are generally used where other specific health complaints are present. Some people experience mild side-effects, including dizziness and lethargy.

Calcium Channel Blockers

Calcium channel blockers reduce the flow of calcium into muscle cells. Calcium channel blockers lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels and reducing the force of heart contractions. Many doctors choose calcium channel blockers when treating older patients with a history of angina. Side-effects include headaches, fluid retention and constipation.


Beta-blockers were once one of the most popular medications for treating hypertension. Although rarely prescribed for treating simple cases of high blood pressure, beta-blockers are still used where other health problems can benefit from the medication.

Beta-blockers reduce the heart rate to an average of sixty beats per minute, helping to reduce strain on the heart. In addition, beta-blockers block the effect of adrenaline, a hormone that can be triggered by stress and anxiety.

Beta-blockers are sometimes prescribed to hypertensive patients with a history of migraine, as some people experience a reduction in the amount or severity of migraines while taking beta-blockers. Side-effects can include fatigue and low mood.


Diuretics work by increasing the flow of urine, which helps to encourage the loss of salt and excess fluid. Diuretics generally cause frequent urination, although this is usually temporary and will pass within a couple of weeks. Diuretics are commonly prescribed to patients with both hypertension and heart failure.

Other medications may be needed to control blood pressure, particularly where high blood pressure is caused by an underlying medical condition. In addition, some doctors recommend taking aspirin to reduce the risk of blood clots or statins to help lower cholesterol.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women with hypertension may need special treatments or medications, as common blood pressure medication may not be suitable.


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