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- Find a local Internist in your town
- What is high blood pressure (hypertension)?
- Which lifestyle modifications are beneficial in treating high blood pressure?
- Coffee and caffeinated beverages
- Other dietary considerations
- Exercise and stress reduction
- How is high blood pressure treated?
- Starting treatment for high blood pressure
- Treatment with combinations of drugs for high blood pressure
- Emergency treatment for high blood pressure
- Treatment during pregnancy
- Which medications are used to treat high blood pressure?
- Beta blockers
- Calcium channel blockers (CCBs)
- Alpha blockers
- Renin inhibitors
- Aldosterone blockers
- Combining agents
- What about the patient's compliance with medication regimens?
- Is alternative medicine used to treat high blood pressure?
- What are the complications of high blood pressure?
- Can high blood pressure be prevented?
- What's new in high blood pressure?
Quick GuideHigh Blood Pressure Symptoms, Causes, Treatments
Starting treatment for high blood pressure
Blood pressure persistently higher than 140/90 mm Hg usually is treated with lifestyle modifications and medication. These circumstances include borderline diastolic pressures in association with end-organ damage, systolic hypertension, or factors that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as age over 65 years, African American descent, smoking, hyperlipemia (elevated blood fats), or diabetes.
Any one of several classes of medications may be started, except the alpha blocker medications, which are used only in combination with another antihypertensive medication in specific medical situations. (See the next section for a more detailed discussion of each of the several classes of antihypertensive medications.)
In some situations, certain classes of antihypertensive drugs are preferable to others as the first-line (preferred first-choice) drugs. Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blocking (ARB) drugs are the drugs of choice in patients with heart failure, chronic kidney failure (in diabetics or nondiabetics), or heart attack (myocardial infarction) that weakens the heart muscle (systolic dysfunction). Also, beta blockers are sometimes the preferred treatment in hypertensive patients with a resting tachycardia (racing heart beat when resting) or an acute (rapid onset) heart attack.
Patients with hypertension may sometimes have a co-existing second medical condition. In such cases, a particular class of antihypertensive medication or combination of drugs may be chosen as the first-line approach. The idea in these cases is to control the hypertension while also benefiting the second condition. For example, beta blockers may treat chronic anxiety or migraine headache as well as hypertension. Also, the combination of an ACE inhibitor and an ARB drug can be used to treat certain diseases of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathies) and certain kidney diseases where reduction in protein in the urine would be beneficial.
In other situations, certain classes of antihypertensive medications should not be used. Dihydropyridine calcium channel blockers used alone may cause problems for patients with chronic renal disease by increasing proteinuria. However, an ACE inhibitor will blunt this effect. The non-dihydropyridine type of calcium channel blockers should not be used in patients with heart failure. However, these drugs may be beneficial in treating certain arrhythmias. Some drugs, such as minoxidil, may be relegated to second- or third-line choices for treatment. Clonidine is an excellent drug but has side effects such as fatigue, sleepiness, and dry mouth making it a second- or third-line choice. See the section below on pregnancy for the antihypertensive drugs that are used in pregnant women.