Known as “the silent killer,” high blood pressure – hypertension – left untreated, can lead to cardiovascular disease and possibly heart failure. Over time, fats and cholesterol accumulate in the artery walls, making it harder for the heart to do its job of pumping blood.
To prevent heart failure, doctors will often place patients with hypertension on blood pressure medications, even after the patient has committed to an exercise regimen and healthy diet. In fact, doctors rarely stop treatment entirely, even if risk appears to be gone. Perhaps now is a good time to have a heart to heart about the long-term effects of blood pressure medication.
Excess sodium in one’s diet can lead to hypertension; for this reason, many are advised to practice a moderate reduction of their dietary salt intake. To rid the body of excess sodium, diuretics can be prescribed to flush out any superfluous water and sodium from the body. As one can imagine, this type of medication can lead to increased urination – but more troubling, diuretics decrease the body’s stores of potassium, which can cause fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps and abrupt foot pain. Diuretics can also affect one’s blood sugar readings, so if you’re a diabetic, be sure to have your diabetes treatments reevaluated.
Dubbed the “cardiac jacks of all trades,” Beta Blockers were introduced in the 1960s and revolutionized cardiology with their unique ability to slow the heart and improve conduction of electrical signals, relax blood vessels and consequently – lower a person’s blood pressure. Beta Blockers do this by adhering to beta receptors, the chemical “messengers” in the nervous system, and preventing them from binding to their receptors. Over time, however, they can cause insomnia and sleep disorders, depression, poor circulation (in the form of cold hands and feet), and erectile dysfunction. As with diuretics, Beta Blockers can affect the sugar reading of diabetics, so it is important to check your readings often.
Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers (ARBs)
ARBs are another frequently prescribed medication for hypertension. Unlike other medications that prevent the build-up of cholesterol, ARBs relax the blood vessels by blocking angiotension – the chemical in the body that constricts our blood vessels. But beware: while beneficial for blood pressure, extended use can lead to dizziness, muscle and bone pain, nausea, vomiting, and high potassium levels.
Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors
One class of medications used to treat a number of diseases across the cardiovascular spectrum is ACE Inhibitors, called so because they inhibit the formation of a hormone that causes blood vessels to narrow. While recommended for their ability to reduce mortality and hospitalization rates, as well as improve quality of life and symptoms for patients, in very rate cases they may cause a swelling of tissues called Angioedema. A dry, hacking cough that won’t go away can be indicative of this problem.
Calcium Channel Blockers
Lightening the workload for the heart, Calcium Channel Blockers relax your blood vessels to increase the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart. Be sure to check your blood pressure daily while on a CCB, and pay attention to any side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, swelling of the feet and ankles, and a slow heart rate. Talk to your doctor if you have trouble breathing, or feel lightheaded or faint; he may prescribe something else.
The reality is, side effects are not uncommon when it comes to prescription meds, and finding the right type and dosage can take time. The Board-certified cardiologists at Intercoastal Medical Group are highly trained in the treatment of vascular and cardiac disease prevention, disease management, and interventional cardiology. Call one of our area locations today or request an appointment online. Your heart will thank you!