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Hypertension and Stroke Special Report

Coping With Side Effects of Blood Pressure Medication

Johns Hopkins Health Alerts Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) and Stroke Blood Pressure Medication Side Effects

From constipation to headaches to increased sensitivity to cold, there are many common side effects to blood pressure medications. Here’s practical advice to help you cope!

If you are taking medication to control your blood pressure, you may experience symptoms—some of which may be side effects from the blood pressure medication. Many medication-related side effects diminish with time, but if they persist or are troublesome, your doctor may be able to minimize them by lowering the dosage, switching you to another drug, or prescribing medication to counteract the side effects. Alternatively, some side effects—particularly the less severe ones—can be managed with lifestyle or self-care measures.

The measures you can take for some common side effects of blood pressure medication are described below. Always consult your doctor before taking any over-the-counter remedies or making changes to your diet.

Common blood pressure medication side effects:

  • Constipation (caused by calcium channel blockers and central alpha agonists). Eat foods high in fiber (such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, bran, and legumes) and engage in moderate exercise on most days of the week. If these measures aren’t helpful, ask your doctor about laxatives.
  • Dehydration (caused by loop diuretics). Drink plenty of fluids each day. If you consume beverages containing alcohol or caffeine, do so in moderation.
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, or fainting (caused by all types of antihypertensive medications but especially alpha-blockers). When standing up from a seated position, rise slowly. When getting up from a recumbent position, sit on the edge of the bed with your feet dangling for one to two minutes; then stand up slowly. Be especially careful about rising slowly when getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Be careful not to overexert yourself during exercise or in hot weather. Also, try to avoid standing for long periods of time and consuming large amounts of alcohol.
  • Drowsiness (caused by alpha-blockers, beta-blockers, central alpha agonists, and peripheral-acting adrenergic antagonists). Ask your doctor if you can take your medication once a day 30 minutes before bedtime. If you need to take multiple doses each day, ask if the last dose can be taken close to bedtime. Also, try to avoid other medications that can lead to drowsiness, such as antihistamines, sleeping pills, prescription pain relievers, and muscle relaxants.
  • Dry mouth (caused by central alpha agonists). Try sucking on sugarless candy, chewing sugarless gum, or melting ice cubes in your mouth. If these measures do not provide relief, ask your doctor about a saliva substitute.
  • Frequent urination at night (caused by beta-blockers and diuretics). Ask your doctor whether you can take your medication in a single dose in the morning after breakfast. If you require more than one dose daily, ask whether you can take the last dose before 6 P.M.
  • Headaches (caused by ACE inhibitors, alpha-blockers, angiotensin II receptor blockers, calcium channel blockers, and direct vasodilators). Taking a hot shower or bath, pressing a cold pack to the painful area, regular exercise, and deep breathing may relieve headaches. If these measures aren’t helpful ask your doctor to recommend a headache medication.
  • Increased sensitivity to cold (caused by alpha-blockers, beta-blockers, and direct vasodilators). Dress warmly and be sure to keep your ears, hands, and feet covered in cold weather. Take extra precautions when you anticipate prolonged exposure to cold.
  • Increased sensitivity to sunlight (caused by beta-blockers, direct vasodilators, and diuretics). Try to avoid direct sunlight, particularly between the hours of 10 A.M. and 3 P.M., when the sun’s rays are strongest. Protect yourself from the sun by wearing protective clothing (including a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses) and using sunblock and lip balm with an SPF of at least 15. Do not use sunlamps or tanning beds or booths.
  • Potassium loss (caused by loop and thiazide diuretics). Increase your intake of potassium-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. Alternatively, your doctor may add a potassium supplement or a potassium-sparing diuretic to your treatment regimen.
  • Tender, swollen, or bleeding gums (caused by calcium channel blockers). Practice good dental hygiene by brushing and flossing teeth and massaging gums daily. Have your teeth cleaned regularly by a dentist.
  • Upset stomach (caused by angiotensin II receptor blockers, beta-blockers, direct vasodilators, and diuretics). Ask your doctor if you can take your medication with meals or with a glass of milk.

  • For more Hypertension & Stroke articles, please visit the Hypertension & Stroke Topic Page

    Posted in Hypertension and Stroke on April 13, 2006

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