In this article, we will describe the kinds of drugs that are used for hypertension, and what steps your doctor should take in choosing (from the incredible array of options) your optimal treatment. Finally, we will provide a reasonably complete list of all the drugs currently used in the U.S. (and in most developed countries) for the treatment of hypertension.
Imagine a garden hose hooked up to a spigot. When the hose is flexible and there are no kinks in it, you can turn on the water full blast and it will flow easily through the hose. But if there’s a kink in the hose, the water doesn’t flow as well beyond the kink. And the pressure inside the hose builds up behind the kink. Or imagine there is gunk inside the hose blocking the path of the water. Your arteries are a lot like that garden hose.
Blood pressure guidelines show the lower the blood pressure numbers the better. As long as no symptoms of trouble are present there is no one number that doctors consider being too low. The guidelines call for an individualized, risk-based approach to managing hypertension, as well as a personal consultation with a health care provider. While the new guidelines mean we are more aggressive about blood pressure control, lifestyle changes are always a part of the treatment plan. A treatment plan is agreed to by patient and provider, and includes ongoing communication to see how the patient is feeling and how their medications are working.
NHLBI-funded Research Supports Development of Guidelines for High Blood Pressure Management. The Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) found that treating to a lower systolic blood pressure target—less than 120 mm Hg—reduced complications from high blood pressure and saved lives. SPRINT results informed recent high blood pressure clinical guidelines that aim to improve treatment for millions of people. SPRINT Memory and Cognition in Decreased Hypertension (SPRINT-MIND) is examining whether treating to the lower blood pressure target can reduce the rate of dementia and slow cognitive decline in the SPRINT participants.
It’s important to determine whether your low blood pressure is “a primary problem or secondary problem,” notes Lawrence. A primary problem means that the body’s reflexes are not working as they should. Secondary causes mean that the low blood pressure is a result of things like dehydration or the effects of certain medications. “Some anti-hypertensive [medications] are more likely to cause hypotension than others, and a lot of it is dose-dependent,” says Lawrence. “In most people, there will be some easily identifiable secondary cause, or some easy solution to what may even be a chronic problem that has no secondary cause, and that’s why it’s important to see your doctor, so they can make an appropriate assessment.”
As of 2014, approximately one billion adults or ~22% of the population of the world have hypertension. It is slightly more frequent in men, in those of low socioeconomic status, and it becomes more common with age. It is common in high, medium, and low income countries. In 2004 rates of high blood pressure were highest in Africa, (30% for both sexes) and lowest in the Americas (18% for both sexes). Rates also vary markedly within regions with rates as low as 3.4% (men) and 6.8% (women) in rural India and as high as 68.9% (men) and 72.5% (women) in Poland. Rates in Africa were about 45% in 2016.
It's tough to get a reading on your average blood pressure if you only measure it at the doctor's office. Buy a home monitoring kit at your local pharmacy. Take two readings a day, morning and night, for a few days. Repeat these steps a few times a year, and share the results with your doctor. Better understanding of your blood pressure is the first step to preventing heart disease and stroke.
High blood pressure can cause problems for a mother and her baby. High blood pressure can harm a mother’s kidneys and other organs and can cause early birth and low birth weight. If you are thinking about having a baby and have high blood pressure, talk with your doctors so you can take steps to lower or control your high blood pressure before and during the pregnancy.
The NHLBI is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health (NIH)—the Nation’s biomedical research agency that makes important scientific discovery to improve health and save lives. We are committed to advancing science and translating discoveries into clinical practice to promote the prevention and treatment of heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders, including high blood pressure. Learn about the current and future NHLBI efforts to improve health through research and scientific discovery.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
Hypertension with certain specific additional signs and symptoms may suggest secondary hypertension, i.e. hypertension due to an identifiable cause. For example, Cushing's syndrome frequently causes truncal obesity, glucose intolerance, moon face, a hump of fat behind the neck/shoulder (referred to as a buffalo hump), and purple abdominal stretch marks. Hyperthyroidism frequently causes weight loss with increased appetite, fast heart rate, bulging eyes, and tremor. Renal artery stenosis (RAS) may be associated with a localized abdominal bruit to the left or right of the midline (unilateral RAS), or in both locations (bilateral RAS). Coarctation of the aorta frequently causes a decreased blood pressure in the lower extremities relative to the arms, or delayed or absent femoral arterial pulses. Pheochromocytoma may cause abrupt ("paroxysmal") episodes of hypertension accompanied by headache, palpitations, pale appearance, and excessive sweating.
The reasons for this astonishing success are not yet entirely understood. Certainly, two of the major causes of high blood pressure are being addressed: excessive dietary salt is completely eliminated, and it is likely that some patients experience some reversal of the atherosclerosis process. However, Dr. Campbell has suggested that additional mechanisms may be partly responsible for fasting’s remarkable effects, such as the rapid reduction of a phenomenon known as “insulin resistance.”
Unfortunately, this seems like a common scenario — medical guidelines recommend more aggressive medication use for minimal potential benefit despite potential harm. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), suggests the blood pressure guidelines go too far for low risk individuals, and the risk of harm outweighs the potential benefits.
The first chemical for hypertension, sodium thiocyanate, was used in 1900 but had many side effects and was unpopular. Several other agents were developed after the Second World War, the most popular and reasonably effective of which were tetramethylammonium chloride, hexamethonium, hydralazine, and reserpine (derived from the medicinal plant Rauwolfia serpentina). None of these were well tolerated. A major breakthrough was achieved with the discovery of the first well-tolerated orally available agents. The first was chlorothiazide, the first thiazide diuretic and developed from the antibiotic sulfanilamide, which became available in 1958. Subsequently, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, and renin inhibitors were developed as antihypertensive agents.
Reduce the stress in your life. Long-term stress can lead to high blood pressure. There are small lifestyle changes you can make to both combat stress and to manage the effects of it in healthy ways. Exercise, eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol and caffeine intake, practicing yoga, meditation, or deep breathing, meditating, praying, journaling, laughing, listening to music, spending time with family and friends, and playing with animals can all help reduce your stress and lower blood pressure. Learn about more tips for reducing stress.
An electrocardiogram is known by the acronyms "ECG" or "EKG" more commonly used for this non-invasive procedure to record the electrical activity of the heart. An EKG generally is performed as part of a routine physical exam, part of a cardiac exercise stress test, or part of the evaluation of symptoms. Symptoms evaluated include palpitations, fainting, shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, or chest pain.
If your blood pressure is always on the low side and you do not have any of the above symptoms, there is usually no cause for concern. Similarly, if you have a single at-home blood pressure reading that is abnormally low without any symptoms, you probably do not need to see your doctor. It is normal for your blood pressure to rise and fall over time, and your body is usually able to get your blood pressure back to normal.
Hypertension Stage 1 is when blood pressure consistently ranges from 130-139 systolic or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic. At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are likely to prescribe lifestyle changes and may consider adding blood pressure medication based on your risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), such as heart attack or stroke.
Daily exercise: Being fit is a key part of blood pressure control. All kids with hypertension should exercise and play sports for 1 hour each day — with some activity (like jogging) most days and higher levels of activity (like running) 3 times a week. Usually, exercise is restricted only when hypertension is very severe. Kids with severe hypertension should not do any weight- or power-lifting, bodybuilding, or strength training until their blood pressure is under control and a doctor says it's OK.
Current strategies for controlling cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are not widely used as standard practice. CDC developed this guide to provide health professionals with evidence-based strategies for effective and sustainable CVD prevention, including health and economic impact and potential for reducing health disparities.
Methyldopa, formerly known under the brand name Aldomet, is one of the oldest blood pressure medications still in use. It was first introduced more than 50 years ago. Methyldopa works in the central nervous system to lower blood pressure. While its general use has declined over the years, methyldopa is considered the first-line of treatment for high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy.
Instead of reaching for drugs, we should continue to find the most effective lifestyle interventions to help lower blood pressure and reduce cardiovascular risk without a laundry list of side effects. Unless, of course, you consider losing weight, having more energy, and feeling great as side effects — those are the type of side effects (from low-carb eating) that we all can embrace!
James, P.A., Oparil, S., Carter, B.L., Cushman, W.C., Dennison-Himmelfarb, C., Handler, J., & Ortiz, E. (2013, December 18). 2014 evidence-based guideline for the management of high blood pressure in adults: Report from the panel members appointed to the eighth joint national committee. Journal of the American Medical Association. Retrieved from http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1791497