Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a very common medical problem worldwide. It is a major risk factor for such life threatening conditions as heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, heart failure, and kidney failure. Luckily, there are many ways to treat hypertension, and it can even be prevented or reversed if caught in the early stages.
The best way to treat hypertension is through lifestyle changes, though more aggressive treatments are often required for advanced cases. Weight reduction, regular aerobic exercise, and stress management are very helpful in controlling high blood pressure. Dietary changes are also important. Cutting excess sugar and salt from the diet, and eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy products can help lower blood pressure. Eliminating alcohol and tobacco can also prevent or alleviate hypertension.
Anyone suffering from hypertension should make the lifestyle changes described above under the guidance of a physician. However, in some cases, diet and exercise are not enough on their own to treat hypertension. In such cases, there are a variety of medications available to treat hypertension.
Antihypertensives all work by lowering blood pressure by some means. They can often significantly reduce one's risk of heart disease, stroke, and other complications of hypertension. In some cases, a combination of drugs is used to treat hypertension.
Thiazide and similar diuretics work by eliminating excess water and salt from the body. Though they are recommended by some as the first-line treatment against hypertension, diuretics are not the most commonly prescribed antihypertensives, because they are not patented, leading the drug companies to promote other products. However, thiazide and similar drugs are effective, and relatively inexpensive.
Adrenergic receptor agonists work by sending messages to the nervous system to lower blood pressure, while adrenergic receptor antagonists block adrenergic receptors from binding transmitters that would raise blood pressure. Adrenergic receptor antagonists fall into two types, alpha-blockers and beta-blockers, depending on the adrenergic receptors they target. Beta-blockers can be useful in preventing recurrent heart attacks, but adrenergic receptor antagonists are rarely used as first-line hypertension treatments, and adrenergic receptor agonists are even rarer.
Angiotensin II receptor antagonists and adosterone antagonists similarly work by blocking receptors in the nervous system. Centrally acting adrenergic drugs directly stimulate alpha-receptors in the brain, resulting in the dilation of arteries. They are usually administered in tandem with a diuretic. Calcium channel blockers treat hypertension by blocking the entry of calcium into the muscle cells in arterial walls.
ACE inhibitors inhibit the activity of the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), which serves to convert angiotensin I into angiotensin II, a vasoconstrictor. Angiotensin II constricts blood vessels, so ACE inhibitors treat hypertension by preventing the creation of angiotensin II. ACE inhibitors are among the most commonly prescribed drugs to treat hypertension.
In medical emergencies, vasodilators may be administered to dilate the arteries directly, and improve bloodflow. Current research is investigating the possibility of a vaccine against hypertension. Since all of the medications discussed above have side effects, medication is only used to treat hypertension if lifestyle changes prove ineffective. Diet and exercise management are extremely important for anyone with hypertension, whether or not he or she is on medication.