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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Special Section:
Healthy Blood Pressure

Treatment: Types of Blood Pressure Medications

Here's a rundown on the main types of drugs and how they work. Often, two or more drugs work better than one.

  • Diuretics: Diuretics are sometimes called "water pills" because they work in the kidney and flush excess water and sodium from the body.
  • Beta-blockers: Beta-blockers reduce nerve impulses to the heart and blood vessels. This makes the heart beat slower and with less force. Blood pressure drops and the heart works less hard.
  • ACE inhibitors: Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors prevent the formation of a hormone called angiotensin II, which normally causes blood vessels to narrow. The ACE inhibitors cause the vessels to relax and blood pressure goes down.
  • Angiotensin antagonists: Angiotensin antagonists shield blood vessels from angiotensin II. As a result, the vessels become wider and blood pressure goes down.
  • Calcium channel blockers (CCBs): CCBs keep calcium from entering the muscle cells of the heart and blood vessels. This causes the blood vessels to relax and pressure goes down.

Questions to Ask Your Health Professional

  • Is my blood pressure under good control?
  • How often should I have my blood pressure checked?
  • What is a healthy weight for me?
  • Is it safe for me to start doing regular physical activity?
  • Can any of my medications affect my blood pressure?
  • Alpha-blockers: Alpha-blockers reduce nerve impulses to blood vessels, which allows blood to pass more easily, causing blood pressure to go down.
  • Alpha-beta-blockers: Alpha-beta-blockers work the same way as alpha-blockers but also slow the heartbeat, as beta-blockers do. As a result, less blood is pumped through the vessels and blood pressure drops.
  • Nervous system inhibitors: Nervous system inhibitors relax blood vessels by controlling nerve impulses. This causes the blood vessels to become wider and blood pressure to go down.
  • Vasodilators: Vasodilators directly open blood vessels by relaxing the muscle in the vessel walls, causing the blood pressure to go down.

Winter 2010 Issue: Volume 5 Number 1 Page 10