Survival guide to blood pressure medications

Survival guide to blood pressure medications

Believe it or not, 100 years ago, blood pressure medicines contained cyanide. Not surprisingly, they caused some thoroughly unpleasant side effects. So it was often hard to get patients to stay on these medications. Unlike most drugs that address the symptoms of a disease, patients felt better when they stopped the medications.

Luckily, in more recent decades better, safer, more effective drugs have become available. There are still a few potential side effects. But in most cases, they’re easily managed.

Beta-Blockers (like Propranolol) block adrenalin, relax and open the blood vessels for easier flow, and can reduce the speed and force of the heartbeat. But because they block adrenalin, they also can cause side effects such as faintness, dizziness, and cold extremities. They can also narrow the air passages in the lungs, which may cause wheezing, cough, and shortness of breath. Alpha-blockers are somewhat similar but may also increase cholesterol and weight gain, as well as episodes of sudden drops in blood pressure.

If you suffer any of these side effects, see your doctor about adjusting the dose or the prescription. And remember to ask about drugs that are “off patent.” They’re less expensive and have stood the test of time in establishing their safety.

Diuretics (or “water pills”) are designed to eliminate excess fluids, making it easier for the heart to pump. They increase urination, which may already be a problem in men with prostate problems. And it may also allow key nutrients to escape in the extra urine. Most physicians recognize the potential loss of potassium, but may not be aware of the loss of other nutrients.

If you’re taking a diuretic, make sure you are well hydrated and have adequate intake of vitamins and minerals.

Vasodilators relax and open the blood vessels, which allows blood to flow more freely and reduces blood pressure. However, they may cause problems similar to the ones listed above for Beta-Blockers.

Some of these potential symptoms may have you raising your eyebrows. But rest assured, if there’s one thing modern medicine is good at it is managing diseases with drugs. And also managing the well-known and accepted side effects of those drugs. And in the case of high blood pressure, the benefit of swiftly and efficiently lowering it with the use of drugs far outweighs the risks of the side effects of the drugs.

But, again, one of the easiest ways you can help control the costs and the side effects of blood pressure medications is to consult your doctor about using a “generic.” These have been around long enough to go “off patent,” which dramatically lowers the price. And they’ve been used long enough that the FDA has had a chance to discover any hidden problems that emerged after they “approved” the drug. Which means your doctor will be well-equipped to spot—and deal with—any potential side effects that may occur. Some of these older drugs include Diazoxide, Hydralazine, Minoxidil, Nitroprusside, Prazosin, and Thiazides.

And, of course, it’s just as important with high blood pressure as it is with any chronic condition to adopt a healthy diet and exercise program, lose weight, and reduce or manage stress through any number of effective “mind-body” techniques. (But first find out which techniques will work best for you by finding your “emotional type” at Then, your doctor should be able to slowly lower your dose of blood pressure medication altogether.