Types of Blood Pressure Medications

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Additional superior editorial about heart health.

PillsAndTabletsMany high blood pressure medications are available. Most options fall within these eight categories.

Diuretics

You may also hear diuretics called “water pills”. They increase the elimination of sodium and water by the kidneys. This decreases blood vessel fluid volume, which reduces pressure against artery walls, thereby lowering blood pressure.

The three classes of diuretic drugs include thiazide, loop, and potassium-sparing.

Examples of diuretics include:

  • Chlorothiazide (Diuril)
  • Hydrochlorothiazide (Microzide)
  • Furosemide (Lasix)
  • Bumetanide
  • Amiloride
  • Eplerenone (Inspra)

Beta-blockers

This drug category may also be called beta-adrenergic blocking agents. Beta-blockers inhibit the effects of the hormone epinephrine (aka adrenaline), resulting in a slower, less forceful heartbeat. Beta-blockers can also promote vasodilation (i.e. widening of the blood vessels). These two actions results in reduced blood pressure.

Examples of beta-blockers include:

  • Acebutol (Sectral)
  • Atenolol (Tenormin)
  • Metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol-XL)


ACE inhibitors

ACE stands for Angiotensiin-converting enzyme. Angiotensin II is a substance that promotes blood vessel narrowing and increased blood pressure. ACE inhibitors reduce enzyme production of angiotensin II; therefore, resulting in lower blood pressure.

Examples of ACE inhibitors include:

  • Quinapril (Accupril)
  • Benazepril (Lotensin)
  • Fosinopril
  • Ramipril (Altace)

Angiotensin II receptor blockers

As well as narrowing blood vessels and increasing blood pressure, angiotensin II also releases a hormone to increase sodium and water in your body. More fluid/blood volume leads to higher blood pressure. Angiotensin II also promotes arteriosclerosis, which is the thickening and stiffening of blood vessels.

Angiotensin II receptor blockers inhibit the actions of angiotensin II to promote vasodilation and lower blood pressure.

Examples of angiotensin II receptor blockers include:

  • Losartan (Cozaar)
  • Olmesartan (Benicar)
  • Valsartan (Diovan)

Please note, both ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers promote lower blood pressure by impacting angiotensin II, but they do so in slightly different ways. Therefore, one type of medication may provide different results than the other.

Calcium channel blockers

This drug category may also be called calcium antagonists. Calcium channel blockers lower blood pressure by decreasing the excitability of muscle cells in arterial walls. This is done by preventing calcium from entering muscle cells of the arterial walls. This allows blood vessels to widen and blood pressure to decrease.

There are short-acting and long-acting forms of calcium channel blockers. Short-acting, which take quick effect, only have impact for a few hours. While long-acting are released slowly for longer impact.

Examples of calcium channel blockers include:

  • Amlodipine (Norvasc)
  • Felodipine
  • Nifedipine (Procardia)

Alpha blockers

This drug category may also be called alpha-adrenergic antagonists. Alpha blockers inhibit the actions of norepinephrine. The hormone norepinephrine causes blood vessel muscles to tighten. Alpha blockers relax muscles to allow for wider blood vessels and lower blood pressure.

Like calcium channel blockers, there are short-acting and long-acting forms of alpha blockers.

Examples of alpha blockers include:

  • Doxazosin (Cardura)
  • Prazosin (Minipress)

Central agonists

This drug category may also be called central-acting agents, central alpha agonists, or central adrenergic inhibitors. alpha-adrenergic antagonists. Central agonists prevent increased heart rate and the narrowing of blood vessels by reducing signals to the nervous system, resulting in lower blood pressure.

Examples of central agonists include:

  • Clonidine (Catapres)
  • Guanfacine (Tenex)

Renin inhibitors

Renin is an enzyme that promotes the production of angiotensin II. As we’ve discussed, angiontensin II leads to vasoconstriction and increased blood pressure. Renin inhibitors prevent renin actions, promoting vasodilation and lower blood pressure.

Examples of renin inhibitors include:

  • Aliskiren (Tekturna)

Depending on the severity of your high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe more than one blood pressure medication. All medications come with side effects, such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and constipation.

Reduce your dependence on medication by making dietary and lifestyle changes to lower blood pressure levels.

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