Blood Pressure Medications

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.

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.

Alpha-beta-blockerswork the same way as alpha-blockers but also slow the heartbeat, asbeta-blockers do. As a result, less blood is pumped through the vesselsand the blood pressure goes down.

Alpha-blockersreduce nerve impulses to blood vessels, which allows blood to pass moreeasily, causing the blood pressure to go down.

Angiotensin antagonists
Angiotensin antagonists shield blood vessels from angiotensin II. As a result, the vessels become wider and blood pressure goes down.

Angiotensin II receptor blockers act similar to ACE inhibitors, but by blocking the action of the recptor for the hormone angiotensin.

Beta-blockersreduce nerve impulses to the heart and blood vessels. This makes theheart beat slower and with less force. Blood pressure drops and theheart works less hard.

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.

Diuretics are sometimes called "water pills" because they work in the kidney and flush excess water and sodium from the body.

Nervous system inhibitors
Nervous system inhibitors relax blood vessels by controlling nerve impulses. This causes the blood vessels to become wider and the blood pressure to go down.

Vasodilators directly open blood vessels by relaxing the muscle in the vessel walls, causing the blood pressure to go down.

Adapted from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Reviewed by Francine Kaufman, MD. 4/08

Last Modified Date: July 01, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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