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What are the different types of blood pressure medications?

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DiureticsACE inhibitorsARBsCalcium channel blockersBeta-blockersAlpha-blockersLifestyle measuresSummary
There are several types of medications that can help manage high blood pressure and reduce the risk of related complications. Examples include diuretics, beta-blockers, and calcium channel blockers.
Medically reviewed by Alyssa Walton, PharmD
Written by Rashida Ruwa, RN
Updated on

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common condition that occurs when the force of blood against the walls of your arteries is too high. It is a significant risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular complications. 

To manage high blood pressure, healthcare professionals often prescribe various types of blood pressure medications. These medications can help to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of related complications.


Diuretics are often the first-line choice to manage blood pressure. They work by increasing urine production, which helps remove excess salt and water from the body. This reduction in fluid volume decreases the pressure on your blood vessels, leading to lower blood pressure.

Doctors often prescribe diuretics such as:

Diuretics are generally well-tolerated, but they can cause several side effects, such as:

  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • muscle cramps

A healthcare professional may also recommend diuretics if you have edema (excess fluid retention), as the drug can also effectively decrease fluid buildup in the body.

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Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors

ACE inhibitors work by blocking the action of an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), which helps narrow blood vessels. By blocking ACE, these medications help to relax blood vessels, lower blood pressure, and improve blood flow to the heart.

Some common ACE inhibitors include:

Common side effects of ACE inhibitors may include:

  • dry cough
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • fatigue

These medications also carry a risk of causing hyperkalemia (high potassium levels) or kidney damage in some people.

ACE inhibitors can be an effective treatment option for people with high blood pressure, particularly if you have diabetes, heart failure, or chronic kidney disease. It can be beneficial to speak with a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable medication and dosage for your condition.

Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)

ARBs work by blocking the effects of an enzyme called angiotensin II, which increases your blood pressure. The medication helps to relax blood vessels, improve blood flow to the heart, and reduce high blood pressure.

Examples of ARBs include:

Possible side effects of ARBs can include:

  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • gastrointestinal disturbances like nausea or diarrhea

These medications are generally well-tolerated, but as with any medication, the effects can vary for each person.

Healthcare professionals often prescribe ARBs as an alternative for people who cannot tolerate ACE inhibitors. However, consider speaking with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate medication based on your needs and medical history.

Calcium channel blockers

Calcium channel blockers work by blocking the flow of calcium into the muscle cells of blood vessels and the heart. This relaxation of blood vessels helps lower blood pressure and improve blood flow while also reducing the workload on the heart.

Examples of calcium channel blockers include:

Common side effects of calcium channel blockers can include:

  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • flushing
  • ankle swelling

Some people may also experience constipation or heartburn. However, these side effects are usually mild and improve with time.

Healthcare professionals often prescribe calcium channel blockers for people with high blood pressure or those with other heart-related conditions, such as certain heart rhythm disorders or angina. They may also prescribe them if you cannot tolerate other medications or if they are ineffective.


Beta-blockers work by blocking the effects of the epinephrine and norepinephrine hormones in the heart and blood vessels. This results in a decreased heart rate and reduced force of contraction in the heart, which helps lower blood pressure levels.

Commonly prescribed beta-blockers include:

As with any medication, beta-blockers may cause side effects such as:

  • slow heart rate
  • low blood pressure
  • fatigue
  • dizziness

In some cases, beta-blockers may cause serious side effects such as bronchospasm. This is more common in people with asthma, but it is a rare side effect.

Healthcare professionals often prescribe this class of blood pressure medications for people with high blood pressure and other heart-related conditions such as irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) and heart failure. 

However, the suitability of beta-blockers depends on several factors, such as your specific medical condition, other medications you may be taking, and any underlying health conditions you may have. 


Alpha-blockers work by relaxing the smooth muscles in blood vessels, allowing them to dilate (widen) and reducing resistance within them. This dilation leads to better blood flow and lower blood pressure.

Commonly prescribed alpha-blockers include:

Alpha-blockers can cause side effects such as:

  • weakness
  • trembling
  • low blood pressure
  • a fast heart rate

A healthcare professional may prescribe a combination of alpha-blockers and other blood pressure medications to people with unmanaged high blood pressure.

What lifestyle measures can help with high blood pressure?

Person checking their blood pressure levels at home.
Oscar Wong/Getty Images

In addition to taking medication, certain lifestyle measures can help manage high blood pressure.

These include:

  • Dietary measures: Adopting a healthy eating plan can help lower blood pressure. An example is the DASH diet, which recommends whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and low fat dairy products.
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity, such as brisk walking, swimming, or cycling, can help manage your blood pressure. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.
  • Salt reduction: Limiting your sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams (mg) daily can help manage blood pressure. You can do this by avoiding processed foods and being mindful of the salt content in restaurant meals.
  • Weight management: If you have overweight or obesity, losing weight can help manage high blood pressure by reducing the strain on your heart and blood vessels. This improves blood flow and cardiovascular health. 
  • Reducing alcohol consumption: Limiting alcohol consumption (if you drink) to moderate levels (up to 1 drink per day for females and 2 drinks per day for males) can help manage blood pressure.
  • Managing stress: Managing stress through techniques such as deep breathing exercises can help with high blood pressure by reducing your body’s production of stress hormones like cortisol, which can lead to high blood pressure levels.

Consider talking with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your lifestyle or medication regimen. They can recommend an effective treatment plan that considers your individual needs.


Several types of blood pressure medications are available, each with its own mechanism of action and potential side effects. A healthcare professional will consider various factors, such as your age and overall health when choosing the most suitable medication for you.

If you have high blood pressure, it can also be beneficial to adopt a healthy lifestyle, including:

  • a balanced diet
  • regular exercise
  • limited sodium intake
  • weight management
  • moderate alcohol consumption (if you drink)

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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