Managing high blood pressure with prescription medications

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High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects millions of adults in the United States and is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke.1

For some, diet and lifestyle changes are enough to manage high blood pressure, but others may need to take prescription medications to help. 

Here, we’ll explain what blood pressure is, why it’s measured and what types of prescription medications are used to treat high blood pressure. 

What is blood pressure?

Your blood pressure is the force that drives blood to all the areas of your body. To do this, your heart pumps the blood, and your arteries carry and distribute it. When your blood pressure is high, your heart and arteries have to work harder to do their job.2 This can cause your arteries to become clogged or burst, increasing your risk of having a stroke. 

As you age, your risk of developing high blood pressure increases, which is why getting regular blood pressure readings is important. Blood pressure readings measure 2 numbers—your systolic (top number) and diastolic pressure (bottom number).3 

Systolic pressure is the amount of force in your arteries when your heart contracts. Diastolic pressure is the amount of force in your arteries when your heart beats and rests. These 2 numbers determine the health of your blood pressure. 

Here is a chart of the 5 stages of your systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

A chart of the 5 categories of blood pressure from normal to hypertensive crisis.

How do blood pressure medications work?

Blood pressure medications are a part of the antihypertensive class of prescription drugs.

They lower your blood pressure in different ways—some remove extra fluid in the body and others block hormones that increase blood pressure.4

Common blood pressure drugs: 

  • Benazepril (Lotensin®) is an ACE inhibitor medication that blocks a hormone called angiotensin, which narrows blood vessels and increases blood pressure.
  • Amlodipine (Norvasc®) is a calcium channel blocker medication that stops calcium from entering the heart and blood vessels, which increases blood pressure.
  • Metoprolol (Lopressor® and Toprol XL®) is a beta-blocker medication that stops a hormone called catecholamines from attaching to beta-receptors, which increases blood pressure.
  • Valsartan (Diovan®) is an angiotensin II receptor blocker medication that stops a hormone called angiotensin II from metabolizing in the body, which causes extra fluid in the body and increases blood pressure.
  • Chlorthalidone (Hygroton®) is a diuretic medication that removes extra fluid in the body to lower blood pressure.

If you have high blood pressure and your healthcare provider thinks medication is right for you, they’ll create a treatment plan to address your care needs that may involve lifestyle changes and diet and exercise.

It could also include 1 or more types of medications from the list above. To learn more about blood pressure medications, we recommend talking to your healthcare provider. 

Disclaimers: This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional. You should consult with your doctor to determine what is right for you.

Sources: 

1. “High blood pressure,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed May 2, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/index.htm.

2. “Pulse pressure: An indicator of heart health?,” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, last accessed May 2, 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/expert-answers/pulse-pressure/faq-20058189.

3. “A list of blood pressure medications,” Healthline, last accessed May 2, 2021, https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension-medication.

4. “Medications used to treat high blood pressure,” Verywell health, last accessed May 2, 2021, https://www.verywellhealth.com/hypertension-drugs-1745989.

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