A normal blood pressure reading is less than 120/80 mm Hg. When you have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, your reading is consistently in a higher range.
High blood pressure treatment typically involves a combination of medication and lifestyle changes to help you manage the condition and prevent or delay related health problems. The goal is to get your blood pressure below the high range.
If normal is less than 120/80 mm Hg, what’s high? When the systolic blood pressure — the top number — is between 120 and 129, and the diastolic blood pressure — the bottom number — is less than 80, this is considered elevated blood pressure.
Elevated blood pressure doesn’t necessarily raise your risk for heart attack or stroke. But without attention, it will often progress to high blood pressure — which definitely does raise your risk. Hypertension (or high blood pressure) is present once the systolic pressure is 130 or higher, or the diastolic pressure is 80 or higher.
A healthy lifestyle is the first line of defense against high blood pressure. Habits that help control blood pressure include:
- eating a healthy diet
- staying physically active
- maintaining a healthy weight
- avoiding excessive alcohol consumption
- quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke
- managing stress
- eating less salt
- limiting caffeine
- monitoring blood pressure at home
- getting support from family and friends
Some people find that lifestyle changes alone are enough to control their high blood pressure. But many also take medication to treat their condition. There are many different types of blood pressure medications with different modes of action.
If one drug doesn’t lower your blood pressure enough, another might do the job. For some people, a combination of two or more drugs may be needed to keep their blood pressure under control.
Hypertension medications can be divided into the categories listed below, based on how they work. The drugs in each section are just a sampling of what’s available.
Diuretics, sometimes called water pills, help the kidneys get rid of excess water and salt (sodium). This reduces the volume of blood that needs to pass through the blood vessels. As a result, blood pressure goes down.
There are three major types of diuretics defined by how they work. They include:
- thiazide diuretics (chlorthalidone, Microzide, Diuril)
- potassium-sparing diuretics (amiloride, Aldactone, Dyrenium)
- loop diuretics (bumetanide, furosemide)
- combination diuretics, which include more than one variety used together
Diuretics in the thiazide group generally have fewer side effects than the others, particularly when taken at the low doses commonly used in treating early high blood pressure.
Beta-blockers help the heart to beat with less speed and force. The heart pumps less blood through the blood vessels with each beat, so blood pressure decreases. There are many drugs within this classification, including:
- atenolol (Tenorim)
- propranolol (Inderal)
- metoprolol tartrate (Lopressor)
- metoprolol succinate (Toprol-XL)
- carvedilol (Coreg)
Alpha-beta-blockers have a combined effect. They’re a subclass of beta-blockers that block the binding of catecholamine hormones to both alpha and beta receptors. They can decrease the constriction of blood vessels like alpha-1 blockers, and slow down the rate and force of the heartbeat like beta-blockers.
Carvedilol (Coreg) and labetalol hydrochloride (Normodyne) are common alpha-beta-blockers.
Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
ACE inhibitors help the body produce less of a hormone called angiotensin II, which causes blood vessels to narrow. These medications decrease blood pressure by helping blood vessels expand and let more blood through.
Some ACE inhibitors include:
- benazepril hydrochloride (Lotensin)
- captopril (Capoten)
- enalapril maleate (Vasotec)
- fosinopril sodium (Monopril)
- lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril)
Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
ARBs block the action of angiotensin II directly on the blood vessels. It attaches at the receptor site on the blood vessels and keeps them from narrowing. This causes blood pressure to fall.
- candesartan (Atacand)
- eprosartan mesylate (Teveten)
- irbesartan (Avapro)
- losartan potassium (Cozaar)
- telmisartan (Micardis)
- valsartan (Diovan)
Calcium channel blockers
Movement of calcium into and out of muscle cells is necessary for all muscle contractions. Calcium channel blockers limit calcium from entering the smooth muscle cells of the heart and blood vessels. This makes the heart beat less forcefully with each beat and helps blood vessels relax. As a result, blood pressure decreases.
Examples of these medications include:
- amlodipine besylate (Norvasc, Lotrel)
- felodipine (Plendil)
- diltiazem (Cardizem)
- isradipine (DynaCirc, DynaCirc CR)
- verapamil hydrochloride (Calan SR, Covera-HS, Isoptin SR, Verelan)
Your body produces types of hormones called catecholamines when under stress, or chronically in some disease states. Catecholamines, such as norepinephrine and epinephrine, cause the heart to beat faster and with more force. They also constrict blood vessels. These effects raise blood pressure when the hormones attach to a receptor.
The muscles around some blood vessels have what are known as alpha-1 or alpha adrenergic receptors. When a catecholamine binds to an alpha-1 receptor, the muscle contracts, the blood vessel narrows, and blood pressure rises.
Alpha-1 blockers bind to alpha-1 receptors, blocking catecholamines from attaching. This keeps them from narrowing blood vessels so blood is able to flow through the blood vessels more freely, and blood pressure falls.
Alpha-1 blockers are primarily used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) in men, but are also used to treat high blood pressure.
These drugs include:
- doxazosin mesylate (Cardura)
- prazosin hydrochloride (Minipress)
- terazosin hydrochloride (Hytrin)
Alpha-2 receptor agonists (central agonists)
Alpha-2 receptors are different from alpha-1 receptors. When an alpha-2 receptor is activated, the production of norepinephrine is blocked. This decreases the amount of norepinephrine produced. Less norepinephrine means less constriction of blood vessels and a lower blood pressure.
Methyldopa (Aldomet) is an example of this type of drug. It’s a common choice for high blood pressure treatment during pregnancy because it generally poses few risks to the mother and fetus.
Other examples include:
- clonidine hydrochloride (Catapres)
- guanabenz acetate (Wytensin)
- guanfacine hydrochloride (Tenex)
Since alpha-2 receptor agonists can work in the brain and central nervous system, they’re also known as “central agonists.” This makes these medications useful for treating a large range of medical conditions beyond high blood pressure.
Vasodilators relax the muscles in the walls of blood vessels, especially small arteries (arterioles). This widens the blood vessels and allows blood to flow through them more easily. Blood pressure falls as a result.
Hydralazine hydrochloride (Apresoline) and minoxidil (Loniten) are examples of these.