Often called the silent killer because it has no warning signs or symptoms, elevated blood pressure can cause a host of health problems, including stroke. According to the CDC, roughly 75 million American adults have high blood pressure. In some cases, doctors prescribe medication to help their patients.
But no medication is spared from dangerous side effects, and unfortunately, blood pressure medications have a few that are very concerning.
Why blood pressure matters
A healthy, normal blood pressure is considered to be less than 120/80 mm Hg. Having a normal blood pressure is ideal for your body to function at its best. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the leading cause of stroke and can cause severe damage to your eyes, kidneys, and arteries. That’s why knowing your number is important.
Next: It’s more complicated than you think.
Common classifications of blood pressure medications
Since there are different causes of high blood pressure and different situations to consider, there is more than one classification of blood pressure medication. The most common types are:
- Diuretics, which remove excess sodium and water from your body.
- ACE inhibitors, which relax blood vessels.
- Beta blockers, which work by blocking the effects of adrenaline.
- Alpha blockers, which relax certain muscles and help small blood vessels remain open.
- ARBs, which relax blood vessels by blocking the action of angiotensin, a chemical in your body that narrows blood vessels.
- Calcium channel blockers, which prevent calcium from entering heart and blood vessel muscle cells.
The medication you’re prescribed and its effects will depend on your individual body chemistry.
Next: Can you escape side effects entirely?
The side effect connundrum
All medications have side effects, and blood pressure meds are no exception. Whenever we put something foreign in our bodies, there are bound to be some consequences while it adjusts. Fortunately, most side effects are mild and may go away over time.
Next: These mild side effects are completely normal.
Mild side effects
The most common, and often mild, side effects of taking blood pressure medication are:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Erection problems
- Feeling nervous
- Feeling tired
- Mild headaches
- Nausea or vomiting
- Skin rash
- Weight loss or gain without trying
While these side effects may be troubling, they are often temporary. If they aren’t, or if they become severe, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, some blood pressure medications are known for having especially troubling side effects. If you’re prescribed any of the following medications, pay careful attention to the way your body reacts.
Next: This medication also treats diabetic kidney disease and heart failure.
Vasotec is the common brand name for the ACE inhibitor. It’s used to treat diabetic kidney disease and heart failure in addition to low blood pressure. Dangerous side effects include liver dysfunction, swollen lips, face, and tongue, and blood pressure that is too low. It can also cause insomnia and wreak havoc on your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Next: Having trouble breathing is never fun.
2. Bisoprolol (Zebeta)
Bisoprolol, sold as the brand Zebeta, is a common beta blocker. The list of common side effects are scary enough: Drowsiness, nausea, constipation, ringing in your ears, depression, anxiety, and a loss of sex drive, just to name a few. But it’s the rare side effects, such as low heartbeat, trouble breathing, and blue fingers and toes that are truly concerning.
Next: Some people gain excessive weight when taking this medication.
3. Doxazosin (Cardura)
Doxazosin, sold as the brand Cardura, is one of the most common alpha blockers. Common side effects include feeling fatigued, headaches, shortness of breath, dizziness, and nausea. Dangerous but less common side effects include excessive weight gain, fainting, weakness, yellow eyes, and shortness of breath. Discontinue use and see a doctor if you experience any of the less common effects.
Next: Blood in the urine, itching, convulsions? No thanks.
Mykrox is a diuretic, and the main ingredient is metolazone. Diuretics are often thought to be a safer blood pressure medication since they simply remove excess fluid from the body. But the side effects are present, and they’re worrisome: Bleeding gums, black, tarry stools, cold sweats, blood in the urine, itching, convulsions, constipation, and dizziness are just a few of the things you’ll need to watch out for.
Next: People on this blood pressure medication often suffer from insomnia.
5. Losartan (Cozaar)
Losartan (sold as Cozaar) keeps blood vessels from narrowing, which lowers blood pressure and improves blood flow. But it can also cause a dry cough, insomnia, stomach issues, muscle pain, shortness of breath, swelling, weight gain, and problems urinating.
Next: Be cautious in the sunlight if you take this medication.
6. Chlorothiazide (Diuril)
Chlorothiazide is a thiazide diuretic that treats the fluid retention in high blood pressure patients. It’s sold as Diuril, and while it’s often effective, the side effects are pretty scary: Dizziness, lightheadedness, blurred vision, loss of appetite, constipation, loss of sex drive, and a sensitivity to the sun.
Next: This diuretic can cause confusion.
7. Bumetanide (Bumex)
Bumetanide, commonly prescribed as Bumex, prevents the body from absorbing too much salt. This allows the salt to be passed in the urine instead. One side effect of diuretics is a loss of potassium, which is needed for proper muscular movement.
Common side effects of Bromax include dizziness, skin rash, and headache while your body adjusts to the medication. But if you experience muscle cramps, weakness, mental confusion, stomach pain, nausea, or an irregular heartbeat, contact your doctor right away.
Next: An allergic reaction to this medication can have serious consequences.
8. Amlodipine Besylate (Norvasc)
Norvasc is a calcium channel blocker, meaning it widens blood vessels and improves blood flow. While the less serious side effects (headache, drowsiness, and flushing red) are unpleasant, you should be most concerned if you develop an allergic reaction: Hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling in your lips, tongue, face, or throat.
Other more severe side effects include swelling in your hands, ankles or feet, a pounding heartbeat, and feeling like you’re going to pass out. Yikes.
Next: Avoid this prescription like the plague if you’re pregnant.
9. Valsartan (Diovan)
Your doctor will definitely warn you about this one: Diovan is toxic to fetal development. If you find out you’re pregnant while taking it, discontinue use immediately or risk injury or death to your developing fetus.
If you’re not pregnant, this angiotensin II receptor blocker works well, but it’s still not without its side effects. The ones to be concerned with are extreme dizziness, hypotension (low blood pressure), diarrhea, and back pain, but luckily those symptoms are rare.
Next: A loss of bladder control does not sound fun.
10. Carvedilol (Coreg)
Carvedilol is a combined alpha/beta blocker that many people have had good luck with. Common side effects include joint pain, dry eyes, cough, and dizziness. But if you feel a decrease in sex drive, feel like you might pass out, rapid weight gain or a loss of bladder control, you’ll want to call your doctor and get switched to a new medication.
Next: How to naturally lower your blood pressure.
Natural ways to lower blood pressure
While medication is sometimes necessary, there are plenty of ways you can prevent high blood pressure or lower it naturally. Maintaining a healthy weight and getting plenty of exercise are the best ways to maintain a healthy blood pressure. If you do notice a spike, eat a healthy diet full of potassium-rich foods, limit sodium, and drink plenty of water. With any luck, you won’t need medication at all.