What kinds of medicines lower high blood pressure?

Many medications known as antihypertensives are available to lower high blood pressure. Some, called diuretics, rid the body of excess fluids and salt (sodium). Others, called beta blockers, reduce the heart rate and the heart's output of blood.

Another class of antihypertensives is called sympathetic nerve inhibitors. Sympathetic nerves go from the brain to all parts of the body, including the arteries. They can cause the arteries to constrict or narrow, thereby raising blood pressure. This class of drugs reduces blood pressure by inhibiting these nerves from constricting blood vessels.

Yet another group of drugs is the vasodilators. These can cause the muscle in the walls of the blood vessels (especially the arteries) to relax, allowing the artery to dilate (widen).

Two other classes of drugs used to treat high blood pressure are the A.C.E. or angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors and the calcium antagonists (calcium channel blockers). The A.C.E. inhibitors interfere with the body's production of angiotensin, a chemical that causes the arteries to constrict. The calcium antagonists can reduce the heart rate and relax blood vessels.

In most cases these drugs lower blood pressure, but quite often people respond very differently to these medications. Thus most patients must go through a trial period to find out which medications are most effective while causing the fewest side effects.

The most important points for people with high blood pressure to remember are:

Follow your doctor's instructions. Stay on your medication. Dietary and lifestyle changes also may help control high blood pressure. Some people with mild hypertension can lower their blood pressure by reducing sodium in their diet. Excessive alcohol intake (more than two ounces daily) raises blood pressure in some people and should be restricted. Blood pressure also returns to normal in many obese people when they lose weight. Increasing physical activity can reduce blood pressure in some people, too. Before drugs are prescribed, these methods to control blood pressure are often recommended for people with only mildly elevated blood pressure.

(Sources: American Heart Association)

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