Simple lifestyle changes can often help reduce high blood pressure (hypertension), although some people may need to take medication as well.

Your GP can advise you about changes you can make to your lifestyle and discuss whether they think you would benefit from medication.

This page covers:

When treatment is recommended

Lifestyle changes

Medication

When treatment is recommended

Everyone with high blood pressure is advised to make the healthy lifestyle changes outlined below.

Whether medication is recommended depends on your blood pressure reading and your risk of developing problems such as heart attacks or strokes.

Your doctor will carry out some blood and urine tests, and ask questions about your health to determine your risk of other problems:

  • if your blood pressure is consistently above 140/90mmHg (or 135/85mmHg at home) but your risk of other problems is low – you'll be advised to make some changes to your lifestyle
  • if your blood pressure is consistently above 140/90mmHg (or 135/85mmHg at home) and your risk of other problems is high – you'll be offered medication to lower your blood pressure, in addition to lifestyle changes
  • if your blood pressure is consistently above 160/100mmHg – you'll be offered medication to lower your blood pressure, in addition to lifestyle changes

The various treatments for high blood pressure are outlined below. You can also read a summary of the pros and cons of the treatments for high blood pressure, allowing you to compare your treatment options.

Lifestyle changes

Below are some changes you could make to your lifestyle to reduce high blood pressure. Some of these will lower your blood pressure in a matter of weeks, while others may take longer.

These include:

You can take these steps today, regardless of whether or not you're taking blood pressure medication. In fact, by making these changes early on you may be able to avoid needing medication.

Read more advice about lifestyle changes to prevent and reduce high blood pressure.

Medication for high blood pressure

Several medications can be used to help control high blood pressure. Many people need to take a combination of different medicines.

The medication recommended for you at first will depend on your age and ethnicity:

  • if you're under 55 years of age – you'll usually be offered an ACE inhibitor or an angiotensin-2 receptor blocker (ARB)
  • if you're aged 55 or older, or you're any age and of African or Caribbean origin – you'll usually be offered a calcium channel blocker

You may need to take blood pressure medication for the rest of your life. But your doctor might be able to reduce or stop your treatment if your blood pressure stays under control for several years.

It's really important to take your medications as directed. If you miss doses, it won't work as effectively. The medication won't necessarily make you feel any different, but this doesn't mean it's not working.

Medications used to treat high blood pressure can have side effects, but most people don't experience any. If you do, changing medication will often help.

Common blood pressure medications are described below.

ACE inhibitors

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors reduce blood pressure by relaxing your blood vessels.

Common examples are enalapril, lisinopril, perindopril and ramipril.

The most common side effect is a persistent dry cough. Other possible side effects include headachesdizziness and a rash.

Find out more about ACE inhibitors.

Angiotensin-2 receptor blockers (ARBs)

ARBs work in a similar way to ACE inhibitors. They're often recommended if ACE inhibitors cause troublesome side effects.

Common examples are candesartan, irbesartan, losartan, valsartan and olmesartan.

Possible side effects include dizziness, headaches, and cold or flu-like symptoms.

Find out more about ARBs.

Calcium channel blockers

Calcium channel blockers reduce blood pressure by widening your blood vessels.

Common examples are amlodipine, felodipine and nifedipine. Other medicines such as diltiazem and verapamil are also available.

Possible side effects include headaches, swollen ankles and constipation.

Drinking grapefruit juice while taking some calcium channel blockers can increase your risk of side effects.

Find out more about calcium channel blockers.

Diuretics

Sometimes known as water pills, diuretics work by flushing excess water and salt from the body through urine. They're often used if calcium channel blockers cause troublesome side effects.

Common examples are indapamide and bendroflumethiazide.

Possible side effects include dizziness when standing up, increased thirst, needing to go to the toilet frequently, and a rash.

Low potassium level (hypokalaemia) and low sodium level (hyponatraemia) may also be seen after long-term use.

Find out more about thiazide diuretics.

Beta-blockers

Beta-blockers can reduce blood pressure by making your heart beat more slowly and with less force.

They used to be a popular treatment for high blood pressure, but now only tend to be used when other treatments haven't worked.

This is because beta-blockers are considered less effective than other blood pressure medications.

Common examples are atenolol and bisoprolol.

Possible side effects include dizziness, headaches, tiredness, and cold hands and feet.

Find out more about beta-blockers.

Page last reviewed: 15/06/2016

Next review due: 15/06/2018