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Antihypertensive drugs are medicines that help lower blood pressure.
The overall class of antihypertensive agents lowers blood pressure, although the mechanisms of action vary greatly. In 2003, a Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure report said that recent clinical trials show that antihypertensive treatment can reduce incidence of stroke by 35-40%, heart attack by 20-25%, and onset of new heart failure by 50%. Within this therapeutic class, there are several subgroups of drugs. There are a large number of drugs used to control hypertension, and the drugs listed below are representative, but not the only members of their classes.
|Brand Name (Generic
|Possible Common Side Effects Include:|
|Aldatazide||Diarrhea, fever, headache, decreased
|Cramps, drowsiness, stomach disorders|
|Aldomet (methyldopa)||Fluid retention, headache, weak feeling|
|Altace (ramipril)||Headache, cough|
|Calan, Calan SR (vera-
|Constipation, fatigue, decreased blood
|Capoten (captopril)||Decreased sense of taste, decreased blood
pressure tiching, rash
|Dizziness, headache, indigestion and nausea,
|Dizziness, fluid retention, headache, nausea,
|Dizziness, fatigue, drowsiness, headache|
|Catapres||Dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness, constipation|
|Corgard (nadolol)||Behaviorial changes, dizziness, decreased
|Corzide||Dizziness, decreased heartbeat, fatigue, cold
hands and feet
|Diuril (chlorothiazide)||Cramps, constipation or diarrhea, dizziness,
fever, increased glocose level in urine
|Dyazide||Blurred vision, muscle and abdominal pain,
|DynaCirc (isradipine)||Chest pain, fluid retention, headache, fatigue|
|Upset stomach, headache, cramps, loss of
|Anemia, constipation or diarrhea, cramps,
|Dizziness, labored breathing, nausea, swelling|
|Constipation or diarrhea, tingling sensation,
nausea and vomiting
|Inderide||Blurred vision, cramps, fatigue, loss of appetite|
|Lasix (furosemide)||Back and muscle pain, indigestion, nausea|
|Diarrhea, itching/rash, tiredness|
|Nausea, dizziness, fatigue, headache|
|Alozol (indapamide)||Anxiety, headache, loss of energy, muscle
|Maxzide||Cramps, labored breathing, drowsiness,
|Headache, nausea, weakness, dizziness|
|Moduretic||Diarrhea, fatigue, itching, loss of appetite|
|Nausea and vomiting, headache, cough|
|Fatigue, nausea, stuffy nose|
|Plendil (felodipine)||Pain in back, chest, muscles, joints, and
abdomen, itching, dry mouth, respiratory
|Procardia, Procardia X
|Swelling, constipation, decreased blood
pressure, nausea, fatigue
|Constipation or diarrhea, gas, chest and joint
|Ser-Ap-Es||Blurred vision, cramps, muscle pain, dizziness|
|Headache, constipation, dry mouth, weakness|
|Tenoretic||Decreased heartbeat, fatigue, nausea|
|Tenormin (atenolol)||Nausea, fatigue, dizziness|
|Veseretic||Diarrhea, muscle cramps, rash|
|Antihypertensive Drugs (continued)|
|Brand Name (Generic
|Possible Common Side Effects Include:|
|Chest pain, blurred vision, constipation or diar-
rhea, hives, nausea
|Visken (pindolol)||Muscle cramps, labored breathing, nausea, fluid
|Headache, drowsiness, dizziness|
|Zaroxolyn (metolazone)||Constipation or diarrhea, chest pain, spasms,
|Fatigue, headache, dizziness|
|Zestril (lisinopril)||Labored breathing, abdominal and chest pain,
nausea, decreased blood pressure
The calcium channel blocking agents, also called slow channel blockers or calcium antagonists, inhibit the movement of ionic calcium across the cell membrane. This reduces the force of contraction of muscles of the heart and arteries. Although the calcium channel blockers are treated as a group, there are four different chemical classes, leading to significant variations in the activity of individual drugs. Nifedipine (Adalat, Procardia) has the greatest effect on the blood vessels, while verapamil (Calan, Isoptin) and diltiazem (Cardizem) have a greater effect on the heart muscle itself.
Peripheral vasodilators such as hydralazine (Apresoline), isoxuprine (Vasodilan), and minoxidil (Loniten) act by relaxing blood vessels.
There are several groups of drugs that act by reducing adrenergic nerve stimulation, the excitatory nerve stimulation that causes contraction of the muscles in the arteries, veins, and heart. These drugs include the beta-adrenergic blockers and alpha/beta adrenergic blockers. There are also non-specific adrenergic blocking agents.
Beta-adrenergic blocking agents include propranolol (Inderal), atenolol (Tenormin), and pindolol (Visken). Propranolol acts on the beta-adrenergic receptors anywhere in the body, and has been used as a treatment for emotional anxiety and rapid heart beat. Atenolol and acebutolol (Sectral) act specifically on the nerves of the heart and circulation.
There are two alpha/beta adrenergic blockers, labetolol (Normodyne, Trandate) and carvedilol (Coreg). These work similarly to the beta blockers.
The ACE II inhibitors, losartan (Cozaar), candesartan (Atacand), irbesartan (Avapro), telmisartan (Micardis), valsartan (Diovan) and eprosartan (Teveten) directly inhibit the effects of ACE II rather than blocking its production. Their actions are similar to the ACE inhibitors, but they appear to have a more favorable side effect and safety profile.
In addition to these drugs, other classes of drugs have been used to lower blood pressure, most notably the thiazide diuretics. There are 12 thiazide diuretics marketed in the United States, including hydrochlorothiazide (Hydrodiuril, Esidrex), indapamide (Lozol), polythiazide (Renese), and hydroflumethiazide (Diucardin). The drugs in this class appear to lower blood pressure through several mechanisms. By promoting sodium loss they lower blood volume. At the same time, the pressure of the walls of blood vessels, the peripheral vascular resistance, is lowered. Thiazide diuretics are commonly used as the first choice for reduction of mild hypertension, and may be used in combination with other antihypertensive drugs.
Debate continued in 2003 as to the best drugs to lower blood pressure. One study seemed to prove that diuretics were the best initial choice, but a study from Australia said that ACE inhibitors were a superior choice. However, many physicians agreed that the best treatment for a particular patient depends on his or her particular age, economic situation, genetic factors and other existing illnesses and conditions.
While designed to lower cholesterol rather than blood pressure, a large clinical trial reported in 2003 that people with high blood pressure may one day benefit from taking them. In the trial, participants with increased risk for heart disease, even if it was not from high cholesterol, benefited from taking statins.
Recommended dosage varies with patient, drug, severity of hypertension, and whether the drug is being used alone or in combination with other drugs. Specialized references can be consulted for further information.
Because of the large number of classes and individual drugs in this group, specialized references offer more complete information.
Peripheral vasodilators may cause dizziness and orthostatic hypotension—a rapid lowering of blood pressure when the patient stands up in the morning. Patients taking these drugs must be instructed to rise from bed slowly. Pregnancy risk factors for this group are generally category C. Hydralazine has been shown to cause cleft palate in animal studies, but there is no human data available. Breastfeeding is not recommended.
Adrenergic — Activated by adrenalin (norepinephrine), loosely applied to the sympathetic nervous system responses.
Angioedema — An allergic skin disease characterized by patches of confined swelling involving the skin the layers beneath the skin, the mucous membranes, and sometimes the viscera—called also angioneurotic edema, giant urticaria, Quincke's disease, or Quincke's edema.
Arteries — Blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart to the cells, tissues, and organs of the body.
Laryngospasm — Spasmodic closure of the larynx.
Pregnancy category — A system of classifying drugs according to their established risks for use during pregnancy. Category A: Controlled human studies have demonstrated no fetal risk. Category B: Animal studies indicate no fetal risk, but no human studies; or adverse effects in animals, but not in well—controlled human studies. Category C: No adequate human or animal studies; or adverse fetal effects in animal studies, but no available human data. Category D: Evidence of fetal risk, but benefits out-weigh risks. Category X: Evidence of fetal risk. Risks outweigh any benefits.
Sympathetic nervous system — The part of the autonomic nervous system that is concerned especially with preparing the body to react to situations of stress or emergency; it contains chiefly adrenergic fibers and tends to depress secretion, decrease the tone and contractility of smooth muscle, and increase heart rate.
ACE inhibitors generally are well tolerated, but rarely may cause dangerous reactions including laryngospasm and angioedema. Persistent cough is a common side effect. ACE inhibitors should not be used in pregnancy. When used in pregnancy during the second and third trimesters, angiotension-converting inhibitors (ACEIs) can cause injury to and even death in the developing fetus. When pregnancy is detected, discontinue the ACE inhibitor as soon as possible. Breastfeeding is not recommended.
ACE II inhibitors are generally well tolerated and do not cause cough. Pregnancy risk factor is category C during the first trimester and category D during the second and third trimesters. Drugs that act directly on the renin-angiotensin system can cause fetal and neonatal morbidity and death when administered to pregnant women. Several dozen cases have been reported in patients who were taking ACE inhibitors. When pregnancy is detected, AIIRAs should be discontinued as soon as possible. Breastfeeding is not recommended.
Thiazide diuretics commonly cause potassium depletion. Patients should have potassium supplementation either through diet or potassium supplements. Pregnancy risk factor is category B (chlorothiazide, chlorthalidone, hydrochlorothiazide, indapamide, metolazone) or category C (bendroflumethiazide, benzthiazide, hydroflumethiazide, methyclothiazide, trichlormethiazide). Routine use during normal pregnancy is inappropriate. Thiazides are found in breast milk. Breastfeeding is not recommended.
Beta blockers may cause a large number of adverse reactions including dangerous heart rate abnormalities. Pregnancy risk factor is category B (acebutolol, pindolol, sotalol) or category C (atenolol, labetalol, esmolol, metoprolol, nadolol, timolol, propranolol, penbutolol, carteolol, bisoprolol). Breastfeeding is not recommended. In 2003, a report announced that adavances in pharmacogenetics mean that in the future, physicians may be able to use a patients genetic information to make certain prescribing decisions for antihypertensives.
Specific drug references should be consulted, since interactions vary for antihypertensive drugs.
Belden, Heidi. "Debate Continues Over Best Drug for Hypertension." Drug Topics (April 21, 2003): 32.
Mechcatie, Elizabeth. "Genetics Will Guide Prescribing for Hypertension: Genotype Predicts Response to Drug." Internal Medicine News (July 1, 2003): 48-51.
"New Hypertension Guidelines: JNC-7." Clinical Cardiology Alert (July 2003): 54-63.
"Studies Show ThatáStatins Benefits People With High Blood Pressure." Harvard Health Letter (June 2003).