High blood pressure is a common condition in which the force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease. Blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.
You can have high blood pressure (hypertension) for years without any symptoms. Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases your risk of serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke.
High blood pressure typically develops over many years, and it affects nearly everyone eventually. Fortunately, high blood pressure can be easily detected. And once you know you have high blood pressure, you can work with your doctor to control it.
Medications to treat high blood pressure
Thiazide diuretics. Diuretics, sometimes called water pills, are medications that act on your kidneys to help your body eliminate sodium and water, reducing blood volume. Thiazide diuretics are often the first — but not the only — choice in high blood pressure medications. If you’re not taking a diuretic and your blood pressure remains high, talk to your doctor about adding one or replacing a drug you currently take with a diuretic.
Beta blockers. These medications reduce the workload on your heart and open your blood vessels, causing your heart to beat slower and with less force. When prescribed alone, beta blockers don’t work as well in blacks or in older adults — but they’re effective when combined with a thiazide diuretic.
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. These medications help relax blood vessels by blocking the formation of a natural chemical that narrows blood vessels.
Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs). These medications help relax blood vessels by blocking the action — not the formation — of a natural chemical that narrows blood vessels.
Calcium channel blockers. These medications help relax the muscles of your blood vessels. Some slow your heart rate. Calcium channel blockers may work better for blacks and older adults than do ACE inhibitors or beta blockers alone. A word of caution for grapefruit lovers, though. Grapefruit juice interacts with some calcium channel blockers, increasing blood levels of the medication and putting you at higher risk of side effects. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you’re concerned about interactions.
Renin inhibitors. Aliskiren (Tekturna) slows down the production of renin, an enzyme produced by your kidneys that starts a chain of chemical steps that increases blood pressure. Tekturna works by reducing the ability of renin to begin this process. Due to a risk of serious complications, including stroke, you shouldn’t take aliskiren with ACE inhibitors or ARBs.