All About Blood Pressure Medication

Your doctor may prescribe antihypertension medication if your blood pressure is high. There are several kinds of medication commonly taken alone or in combination, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Types of medication

Diuretics

Diuretics help to lower blood pressure by eliminating excess fluid and salt that accumulate in the body. The excess fluid is eliminated in the urine. Examples of commonly prescribed diuretics are furosemide (Lasix), hydrochlorothiazide (Esidrix, Hydrodiuril), chlorothiazide (Diuril), spironolactone (Aldactone) and ethacrynic acid (Edecrin).

Beta blockers

These keep the heart from pumping too hard by blocking the action of the hormones that normally increase heart rate and cardiac output. Examples of commonly prescribed beta blockers are atenolol (Tenormin), metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol XL), nadolol (Corgard) and propranolol (Inderal).

Alpha blockers

Alpha blockers prohibit the production of a hormone that makes the blood vessels constrict. Examples of alpha blockers are doxazosin (Cardura), prazosin (Minipress) and terazosin (Hytrin).

Calcium channel blockers

These cause blood vessels to dilate or widen by reducing the calcium concentration in their cells. Some also slow the heart rate.

Some commonly prescribed calcium channel blockers are amlodipine (Norvasc, Lotrel), verapamil (Calan, Isoptin, Verelan) and nifedipine (Adalat, Procardia).

ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers

ACE inhibitors reduce the production of the enzyme angiotensin, which makes blood vessels constrict. ACE inhibitors allow blood vessels to expand so that blood can flow more easily and the heart can work more efficiently. Examples of commonly prescribed ACE inhibitors are benazepril (Lotensin), captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec) and lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril).

Angiotensin II receptor blockers block the effects of angiotensin, preventing it from effecting the heart and blood vessels. Examples of commonly prescribed angiotensin II receptor blockers are candesartan (Atacand),  losartan (Cozaar), telmisartan (Micardis) and valsartan (Diovan).

ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers should not be taken by pregnant women.  A study published in tune 2006 in the New England Journal of Medicine found a markedly increased rate of congenital birth defects in the infants of women on these medications. If you have high blood pressure and plan to become pregnant or are currently pregnant, discuss this study with your health care provider.

Guidelines for taking medication

Blood pressure medications may produce side effects such as headaches, nausea, weakness, impotence or insomnia. Ask your doctor about changing or modifying your prescription if you develop side effects.

To gain the optimum benefits from your medication, follow these guidelines:

  • Take all your medication as prescribed. Be sure you know whether it should be taken with food or on an empty stomach.

  • Take your pills at the same time each day. Consider putting a check mark on your calendar after you've taken them.

  • Never skip a day or decide not to take your pills because you have side effects or don't feel your blood pressure is high. Remember: High blood pressure has no outward symptoms.

  • Refill your prescription before it runs out.

  • Take the proper amount of medication each day. Don't adjust your dosage without your doctor's approval.

  • Don't stop taking your medication because your blood pressure tests normal. It's testing normal because you're taking the medication.

  • Don't skip appointments to have your blood pressure checked.

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