The Basic Types of Blood Pressure Medications

How much do you know about your blood pressure medications? Here are a few facts about the most common classes

Although there are many ways to treat hypertension, pharmaceutical blood pressure medications tend to work the best. But medical science being the complicated mess it is, most of us have only a hazy idea of how our meds work.

In this article, we'll take a look at the basic specs on the six most common classes.


You might be surprised to learn that many common BP medications are like caffeine--they're simply diuretics. In other words, they flush water out of the body. These "water pills" work because they remove excess salt; and salt can trigger hypertension in some people.

If you happen to be salt-sensitive, as about half of us are, then diuretics may be enough to control your BP, especially when combined with lifestyle changes.

ACE Inhibitors and Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers

Both these classes relax and widen blood vessels by blocking the effects of the hormone angiotensin. ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors keep your body from creating some forms of angiotensin, while angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) block the chemical sites that let angiotensin work.

Popular ACE inhibitors include captopril, lisinopril, and ramipril. Losartan, olmesartan, and valsartan are the most common ARBs.

Beta Blockers

Beta blockers keep adrenaline from stimulating beta-adrenergic chemical receptors in the cells, short-circuiting their normal action. This causes the heart to slow down and contract with less force, thereby reducing your blood pressure. Commonly prescribed beta blockers include metoprolol, nadolol, and penbutolol.

Calcium Channel Blockers

These medications work by preventing the element calcium from entering the heart muscle. In response, the heart relaxes and the blood vessels widen; blood pressure drops as a result. They work especially well in elderly patients, but it's a bad idea to take them long-term, because they have a lot of side effects.

Popular examples of calcium channel blockers include amlodipine, diltiazem, and nifedipine.

Renin Inhibitors

One of the few BP drug classes that doesn't directly affect the heart, renin inhibitors slow the synthesis of a kidney enzyme called, you guessed it, renin. Too much renin causes a chemical cascade that ultimately results in increased blood pressure. The only common renin inhibitor in use is Aliskiren.

What've You Got?

If you don't see the names of your meds here, and you're wondering which class or classes they fall into, it's easy enough to find out. If the doctor doesn't simply tell you, then ask; otherwise, take a look at the paperwork that comes with each prescription (if you can stand to read that fine, fine print).

Failing that, you can Google the names or check with Wikipedia, and you'll have the classes of your blood pressure medications in no time!

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The Basic Types of Blood Pressure Medications

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