- Blood pressure medicines (‘antihypertensives’) are used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension).
- Many people with high blood pressure need to take medicines to reduce their blood pressure to healthy levels.
- There are several different types of antihypertensives including ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and diuretics.
- Your doctor will recommend one or more medicines based on your individual circumstances.
- It’s important to visit your doctor regularly to review your medicines and make sure they are still necessary and effective.
How is high blood pressure treated?
Blood pressure medicines are used to treat high blood pressure. They are also known as antihypertensives.
If your blood pressure is high, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need to take blood pressure medicines. However, your risk of developing cardiovascular disease — such as stroke and heart attack — increases with high blood pressure.
When deciding if you need antihypertensive medicines, your doctor will check your overall risk of developing heart disease in the next 5 years or so.
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The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners recommends that you regularly review with your doctor or specialist any medicines you are taking for high blood pressure or high cholesterol to assess the ongoing benefits and risks.
The higher your risk, the more likely you’ll need medicines.
How are medicines used to treat high blood pressure?
Usually, you will start with a low dose of a medicine. After a period of time, your doctor will review your blood pressure. If the medicine isn’t working well enough, or if you have troublesome side effects, your doctor may prescribe other medicines.
Some people need to take a few medicines in combination to control their blood pressure. It can take time to find a medicine or combination of medicines that suit you.
Some people will take medicines for life. Others find that continuing to lose weight and change their diet reduces the need for medicines.
Someone whose blood pressure is very high or causing symptoms such as headache, or if they have conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, may need urgent treatment with medicines to bring the blood pressure down to normal levels.
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What types of medicines are used to treat high blood pressure?
The most common blood pressure medicines are ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and diuretics. Many people need more than one medicine to bring their high blood pressure under control.
ACE inhibitors and ARBs
ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors and ARBs (angiotensin receptor blockers) work by widening your blood vessels. This reduces the pressure in the vessels and allows blood to flow more easily, and makes it easier for your heart to pump blood around your body.
Calcium channel blockers
Calcium channel blockers stop calcium from entering the heart muscle and blood vessel cells. This widens the blood vessels and relaxes the heart muscle, making it easier for your heart to pump blood around your body.
Diuretics are also known as fluid tablets. They work by making you urinate more to get rid of any excess water in your body. When the excess fluid is reduced, the pressure in your blood vessels and heart is also lower.
What else can I do to reduce my blood pressure?
You may be able to reduce your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease in other ways. Some people are able to reduce their blood pressure without taking blood pressure medicines. It helps to:
- exercise regularly
- reduce your salt intake
- maintain a healthy diet
- lose weight if you have overweight or obesity
- limit alcohol
- quit smokingif you smoke
Your doctor can give you more specific guidance to suit your needs.
Many people with high blood pressure don’t have any symptoms. It is recommended for all adults to get their blood pressure checked at least every 2 years.
Resources and support
- The Heart Foundation provides information and support for people with high blood pressure, including a blood pressure action plan.
- The National Stroke Foundation has more information about blood pressure and stroke.
- Dietitians Australia has a fact sheet about salt, ways to reduce salt intake, and when to see a dietitian.
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Last reviewed: December 2022