High blood pressure also known as hypertension is one of the leading causes of heart attack, heart failure, stroke and kidney disease. Therefore, it is very important to treat high blood pressure early to prevent the problems above. With this being said, there are various medications that can help treat high blood pressure.
However according to the CDC, about 75 million American adults (32%) have high blood pressure (HBP)— that’s 1 in every 3 adults. What’s even more? About 1 in 5 adults are unaware of having high BP. This is partly due to the condition usually not showing any serious signs and symptoms. It can also be because, some people don’t regularly get medical checkups as often as they should. But even with those who are aware of having high BP, only about half (54%) have their condition under control.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries, which carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body. With HBP, too much force is exerted on the arteries as blood is pumped through. This often results in damage to the blood vessels.
Blood pressure is measured using two numbers the systolic and diastolic pressures — which measure, respectively. The systolic pressure is the first number and represents the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number is the diastolic blood pressure which represents the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day. But when you check your blood pressure consistently on three different occasions and find out that it is high, then you have hypertension. In adults, a normal blood pressure is if the top number (systolic pressure) is between 90 and 120 and the bottom number (diastolic) is between 60 and 80. A blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or more is too high.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
In most cases, the cause of high blood pressure is unknown. Anyone can develop it, whether you are thin, healthy or exercise regularly. But several factors are known to increase your risk, such as:
- Age; about 65% of people who are 60years and above have HBP.
- Physical inactivity or a sedentary lifestyle.
- Frequent consumption of high salt diet.
- Excessive alcohol intake.
- Substance abuse such as cocaine and heroin.
- Low intake of potassium-rich foods such as bananas.
- A family history of hypertension
- Poorly controlled stress.
- Use of oral contraceptives
- Being African-American also increases the risk of having high blood pressure compared to whites and Hispanics.
What Are The Current Effective High Blood Pressure Medications?
There are several classes of high blood pressure medications. These drugs are called anti-hypertensives. Each class lowers blood pressure in a different way. Below, you’ll find summaries of some of the major types of commonly medications that are used to treat high blood pressure.
1. Diuretics (Water Pills)
These are drugs which lower blood pressure by flushing out excess water and sodium from the blood. They are often used in combination with additional high blood pressure prescription medications.
Examples of these include;
- Furosemide (Lasix)
- Hydrochlorothiazide (Microzide)
- Spironolactone (Aldactone)
2. Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors
This enzyme converts angiotensin into an active chemical which tenses and tightens the blood vessels. ACE inhibitors prevent this conversion leaving the blood vessels relaxed and lowering the pressure with which the heart pumps into them.
Examples of this class of drugs include;
- Captopril (Capoten)
- Enalapril Maleate (Vasotec)
- Fosinopril sodium (Monopril)
- Lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril)
3. Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers (ARBs)
The hormone angiotensin narrows blood vessels, but to do its job it needs a place to bind. These drugs block the point where the active angiotensin binds to blood vessels. This angiotensin tenses the blood vessel, therefore, when it’s binding site is blocked, the blood vessels remain relaxed.
Examples of these include;
- Candesartan (Atacand)
- Losartan (Cozaar)
- Telmisartan (Micardis)
- Valsartan (Diovan)
These drugs block a special kind of receptors called beta receptors which are present in the blood vessels and heart. Adrenaline, the hormone which is released when we are excited or frightened will bind to this receptor to tense the blood vessels and increase the pumping action of the heart. When these receptors are blocked, the heart beats at a relaxed rate and the blood vessels are also relaxed, lowering the blood pressure.
Examples of this class of drugs includes;
- Acebutolol (Sectral)
- Atenolol (Tenormin)
- Labetalol (Trandate)
- Propranolol (Inderal)
5. Calcium Channel Blockers
Calcium is the major chemical which makes muscles contract in the body. It also increases the strength and force of contractions in the heart and blood vessels. When blood vessels get tensed, the muscles contract. Therefore if calcium is blocked from entering the cells and muscles of the blood vessels, they would not get tense and would stay relaxed, causing a reduction in blood pressure.
Examples of these drugs includes;
- Amlodipine (Norvasc, Lotrel)
- Felodipine (Plendil)
- Nicardipine (Cardene SR)
- Nifedipine (Adalat CC)
6. Alpha Blockers
Alpha blockers relax certain muscles and help small blood vessels remain open. They work by keeping the hormone norepinephrine (noradrenaline) from tightening the muscles in the walls of smaller arteries and veins, which causes the vessels to remain open and relaxed.
- Doxazosin (Cardura)
- Prazosin (Minipress)
7. Aldosterone Antagonists
This comprises of drugs which antagonize the action of a chemical called aldosterone in the kidneys. This chemical causes the re-absorption of sodium and water from the kidneys, which increase the blood volume and the heart requires more pressure to pump. By preventing this situation, this drug helps to lower blood pressure.
- Spironolactone (Aldactone)
- Eplerenone (Inspra)
These medications work directly to open blood vessels. They affect the muscles in blood vessel walls, preventing the muscles from tightening and also the walls from narrowing. As a result, blood flows more easily through your vessels and your heart doesn’t have to pump as hard.
9. Central-Acting Agents
These prevent your brain from sending signals to your nervous system to speed up your heart rate and also narrow your blood vessels. As a result, your heart doesn’t pump as hard and your blood flows more easily through your blood vessels.
- Clonidine (Catapres, Kapvay)
- Guanfacine (Intuniv, Tenex)
10. Peripheral Adrenergic Inhibitors
These medications reduce blood pressure by blocking neurotransmitters in the brain. This blocks the smooth muscles from getting the “message” to constrict. These drugs are rarely used unless other medications don’t help.
- Guanadrel (Hylorel)
- Guanethidine monosulfate (Ismelin)
- Reserpine (Serpasil)
What Are The Common Side Effects of High Blood Pressure Medications?
Most blood pressure medications are easy to take, but all medicines have side effects. Some common side effects of high blood pressure medications include:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Erection problems
- Feeling nervous
- Feeling tired, weak, drowsy, or a lack of energy
- Nausea or vomiting
- Skin rash
- Weight loss or gain without trying
Whiles most of these are mild and may go away over time some will not. Therefore, tell your doctor as soon as you experience any side effects. Most of the time, just making changes to the dose of medicine can help reduce the side effects.
But never change the dose or stop taking a medicine on your own. Always talk to your provider first.
How Can You Prevent High Blood Pressure?
There are some lifestyle changes to prevent hypertension especially if you possess some of the risk factors. These include;
- Weight control.
- Increase physical activity because, it helps to burn excess calories off. After every meal, some nutrients are stored as fats. If you do not burn these off, they accumulate and may cause damage to blood vessels.
- Limit salt and alcohol intake.
- Avoid processed and salted foods.
- Increase your intake of potassium rich foods such as bananas, because potassium helps to lower blood pressure.
- Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables.
- Consume low-fat meat and dairy products.
Hypertension is an extremely common medical problem that can have severe consequences without proper treatment. Your doctor would prescribe these drugs alone or in combination with others. This however depends on how well your blood pressure improves with time and also on how high it is. However, you can also try effective home remedies to lower your blood pressure.