Understanding Blood Pressure Medications.

There are many medications for lowering blood pressure and what works for one person may not work for another.  If you need them, your doctor will start them slowly and ask you to come back regularly to check they’re working and that you don’t have side effects.

You should take the medication regularly as prescribed and alongside the lifestyle changes described here.  Both these things will lower your risk of heart attacks, stroke and other effects of high blood pressure.

Your risk of heart attacks and heart disease is higher if you also:

  • have high cholesterol,
  • if you smoke,
  • if you have diabetes,
  • if you have any other medical problem that might compound a heart problem or
  • if you have a family history of heart disease or high blood pressure.

Types of blood pressure medication.

There are several different types of high blood pressure medication and they work in different ways.  They can be used alone but also combined so that their different properties can work to your best advantage.

ACE inhibitors are designed to control the hormones that influence blood pressure.  These

Anatomy of the heart.

Anatomy of the heart.

hormones can make the blood vessels narrower so that the pressure in them is increased. If this is prevented then the blood pressure remains normal and the blood flows more freely through the blood vessels.

Examples are captopril, enalapril, lisinopril, benazopril.  All medications have a drug name and a brand name.  These examples are the drug name, so if you’re taking one, look for the small writing on the packet rather than the large brand name.

Angiotensin receptor blockers, sometimes known as ARBs, also help to control blood pressure hormones.  Examples of these include losartan, canesartan, valsartan.

Calcium channel blockers use a different mechanism but also keep the blood vessels relaxed and open so that the blood flows freely.  Examples are amlodipine, diltiazem, nicardipine.

Diuretics are designed to help the body to get rid of excess fluid in its system which will then help lower blood pressure.  Examples are bendrofluazide, chlortalidone, cyclopenthiazide.

Beta-blockers are not used as commonly as they were to lower blood pressure because newer drugs such as the ones described above, seem to be better at the job.  They may be prescribed if you also have angina or heart failure as they are still good drugs for these conditions. Beta-blocker drugs often have a name ending in –olol, such as atenolol or bisoprolol.

Less commonly used drugs include alpha-blockers, vasodilators or renin inhibitors and might be prescribed if you’re pregnant or can’t take the high blood pressure treatment described above.

The combination of drugs to treat your high blood pressure will depend on several factors.  Things like your age, other medical conditions, your past medical history and ethnic origin will influence which drugs will do the job best.  Your doctor will monitor you regularly to ensure that they are working well.

Getting the most from your high blood pressure treatment.

Often high blood pressure has no symptoms so taking medication that won’t actually make you feel better can be difficult to understand.  However untreated high blood pressure is a bit like smoking or not wearing your seatbelt when you’re in the car; you might be fine (in the case of high blood pressure, it’s unlikely) but it’ll be too late when you find you’re not.

  • Blood pressure treatment is designed to help you so try to make them part of your daily routine.  Take them at about the same time each day and doctors recommend morning is best.
  • Learn about your high blood pressure treatment and if you have questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Measure your blood pressure at home.  There are good electronic sphygmanometers on the market that are simple to use.  Brands such as Omron or Microlife are good ones to look out for and will help you keep an eye on the work your high blood pressure treatment is doing.
  • Maintain your healthy lifestyle.  Learn more about lifestyle and blood pressure here . Your treatment will work much better, and you may even be able to reduce the number or dose of some of your medications if you can help yourself.
  • Check with the pharmacist if you take any over-the-counter medications or herbal remedies as well as the prescribed high blood pressure treatment, to make sure that they don’t interact or make your treatment less effective.

Side effects of high blood pressure treatment.

Most people can take these medications without any problems, but everyone is different.  The most likely time that you’d have side effects is when you first start a treatment of if the dose increases.  They will usually wear off in time but if you’re concerned, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.

Different people have different side effects from the same treatment.  Sometimes the ACE inhibitor drugs can cause a dry cough and other medications can make you feel dizzy or have an upset stomach.

A side effect with one treatment doesn’t mean that you can’t take any high blood pressure treatment.  Other medicines may control your blood pressure without any side effects at all, which it why you should talk to your doctor.

Elspeth Raisbeck