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Types of High Blood Pressure Medication: Drugs, Uses and Side Effects

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 7/27/2010

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, has serious risks. It makes the heart work harder than it should and increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, diabetes and kidney disease. Several types of high blood pressure medication control the disease and reduce these risks.

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    Calcium Channel Blockers

    Calcium channel blockers prevent calcium from entering the cells of the blood vessel walls and heart. This reduces blood pressure and slows heartbeat. The short-acting forms of calcium channel blockers provide short-term effects, while long-acting medications provide a time-released, longer-lasting effect. Examples of calcium channel blockers include diltiazem, isradipine, amlodipine, felodipine, nifedipine, verapamil, nicardipine and nisoldipine. In addition to their use as a high blood pressure medication, calcium channel blockers also treat circulatory problems, chest pain, complications from brain aneurysm and migraines. Side effects of calcium channel blockers include headache, rash, constipation, rapid heartbeat, nausea, flushing, drowsiness and swelling of the lower extremities, according to MayoClinic.com.

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    Diuretics

    Diuretics, commonly referred to as water pills, treat hypertension, water retention and congestive heart failure. The three types of diuretics work differently, but produce the same overall effects. Thiazide diuretics reduce blood pressure by dilating the blood vessels and ridding the body of excess water and sodium. Common examples of thiazide diuretics include hydrochlorothiazide, metolazone, methylclothiazide and chlorthalidone. Potassium-sparing diuretics increase the excretion of water from the body, but they do not cause the body to lose potassium like other diuretics. Types of potassium-sparing diuretics include amiloride and spironolactone. Loop-acting diuretics increase urine production, which reduces blood pressure by reducing the volume of the blood. The Texas Heart Institute reports that common side effects of diuretics include muscle cramps, weakness, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, skin rash, dizziness and joint pain.

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    ACE Inhibitors

    Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors prevent the body from converting angiotensin I to angiotensin II. Angiotensin II causes the blood vessels to constrict, which forces the heart to work harder and increases blood pressure. When someone takes an ACE inhibitor, it relaxes the blood vessels and reduces blood pressure. Examples of ACE inhibitors include lisinopril, benazepril, enalapril, captopril, quinapril and ramipril. Pregnant women should not take ACE inhibitors, and those with kidney disease may require regular monitoring while using ACE inhibitors. Side effects of ACE inhibitors include rash, dry cough, itching, too much potassium in the body and allergic reaction.

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    Beta-Blockers

    Beta-blockers slow the heart down by blocking the effects of epinephrine on the heart muscle. This reduces blood pressure and relaxes the blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the heart and other organs. Common beta-blockers include metoprolol, acebutolol, bisoprolol, atenolol, nadolol and propranolol. In addition to their use as a high blood pressure medication, beta-blockers also treat glaucoma, tremors, migraines, anxiety, heart failure and hyperthyroidism. Common side effects of beta-blockers include weakness, fatigue, dizziness and cold hands. If you experience shortness of breath, seek medical attention.

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    Learn About the Most Common Types of Blood Pressure Drugs: Drug Names, Actions and Side EffectsHigh blood pressure drugs reduce blood pressure using several mechanisms. Some drugs relax the blood vessels, others slow the heartbeat and others increase the excretion of fluid and sodium from the body. Discuss your blood pressure with a physician to find out which drug is best for your personal situation.
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    Alpha-Blockers

    Alpha-blockers also block the effects of adrenaline, but these drugs block the chemical from affecting the small veins and arteries in the body. This relaxes the vessels and reduces blood pressure. Other names for alpha-blockers include alpha-adrenergic antagonists, alpha-blocking agents, alpha-adrenergic blocking agents and adrenergic blocking agents. Examples of alpha-blockers include doxazosin, terazosin, afuzosin, prazosin and tamsulosin. The first dose of an alpha-blocker may cayse dizziness and fainting. These side effects should stop once your body adjusts to the medication. Other side effects of alpha-blockers include nausea, weight gain, pounding heart beat, weakness and reduced low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol).

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    Vasodilators

    Vasodilators prevent the muscles of the arteries from tightening, which prevents the blood vessels from narrowing. This makes it easier for the heart to pump blood, which reduces blood pressure and prevents complications associated from hypertension. Minoxidil and hydralazine are examples of vasodilators. In addition to high blood pressure, vasodilators also treat pulmonary hypertension, preeclampsia and heart failure. Doctors do not usually prescribe these drugs unless other treatment options fail. Vasodilators have many side effects, including chest pain, heart palpitations, nausea, swelling of the extremities, vomiting, flushing dizziness, nasal congestion, headache, rapid heartbeat and excessive hair growth. The use of some vasodilators increase the risk for developing lupus, an autoimmune disease.

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    Angiotensin Receptor Blockers

    Angiotensin receptor blockers block the effects of angiotensin II on the blood vessels. This causes the blood vessels to relax and reduces blood pressure. These drugs work to control hypertension, along with heart failure and kidney failure. The different types of angiotensin receptor blockers have similar actions, but the body uses and eliminates them differently. MedicineNet reports that the most common angiotensin receptor blocker side effects include high potassium levels, cough, dizziness, drowsiness, low blood pressure, metallic taste in the mouth, rash and diarrhea. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid taking this type of drug with salt substitutes and potassium supplements. Angiotensin receptor blockers may also interact with lithium, fluconazole and rifampin. Examples of angiotensin receptor blockers include eprosartan, valsartan, candesartan, losartan, telmisartan and irbesartan.

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    References

    MayoClinic.com: Calcium Channel Blockers

    Texas Heart Institute: Diuretics

    WebMD: Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors

    MayoClinic.com: Beta-Blockers

    MayoClinic.com: Alpha Blockers

    MayoClinic.com: Vasodilators

    MedicineNet: Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers