Treating high blood pressure 

You can take effective steps to lower your blood pressure with changes to your lifestyle and by taking medication.

In all cases, you can benefit from making some simple lifestyle changes (outlined below). Whether you are also recommended to take medication will depend on your blood pressure level and your risk of developing a cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack, stroke or kidney failure.

  • If your blood pressure is consistently above 140/90mmHg (or 135/85mmHg at home) but your risk of cardiovascular disease is low – you should be able to lower your blood pressure by making some changes to your lifestyle (see below). You may be offered yearly blood pressure assessments.
  • If your blood pressure is consistently above 140/90mmHg (or 135/85mmHg at home) but below 160/100mmHg – you will be offered medication to lower your blood pressure if you have existing or high risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • If your blood pressure is consistently above 160/100mmHg – you will be offered medication to lower your blood pressure.

Find out about the health risks of not treating high blood pressure.

Read information about treating high blood pressure during pregnancy.

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, others may take longer.

You can take these steps today, regardless of whether or not you're taking blood pressure medication. You don’t need a doctor to prescribe lifestyle changes. 

The more healthy habits you adopt, the greater effect there is likely to be on your blood pressure.

In fact, some people find that, by sticking to a healthy lifestyle, they do not need to take any medicines at all. Find out more about preventing high blood pressure.

Medication

There is a wide range of blood pressure-lowering medicines to choose from and a combination is usually needed to treat high blood pressure most effectively and with the minimum side effects.

Taking such a combination of medication is nothing to worry about. The different types of medication work in different ways on your body. Read an FAQ page from Blood Pressure UK on Taking more than one medicine for high blood pressure.

The first medication you are offered will depend on your age.

  • If you are under 55 years old – you will usually be offered an ACE inhibitor or an angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB).
  • If you are aged 55 or older (or you're any age with African or Caribbean family origin) – you will usually be offered a calcium channel blocker.

In some cases, you may need to take blood pressure-lowering medication for the rest of your life. However, if your blood pressure levels stay under control for several years, your doctor might be able to reduce or stop your treatment.

It's really important you take your medications as directed. If you miss doses, the treatment will not work as effectively and you could lose protection against future illness. The medication won't necessarily make you feel any different, but this doesn't mean it's not working.

Here are some questions you might like to ask your doctor or nurse about your treatment.

You can also ask your pharmacist any questions about your medication, or approach them for advice on how to stick to your treatment plan.

Medications used to treat high blood pressure can have side effects but most people don't experience any. If they do, the large choice of blood pressure medicines means that they can often be resolved by changing treatments.

Let your GP or nurse know if you have any of the following common side effects while taking medication for high blood pressure:

  • feeling drowsy
  • pain around your kidney area (on the side of your lower back)
  • a dry cough
  • dizziness, faintness or lightheadedness
  • a skin rash
  • swelling of your feet

ACE inhibitors

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors reduce blood pressure by relaxing your blood vessels. The most common side effect is a persistent dry cough. If side effects become particularly troublesome, a medication that works in a similar way to ACE inhibitors, known as an angiotensin-2 receptor antagonist (ARB), may be recommended.

ACE inhibitors can cause unpredictable effects if taken with other medications, including some over-the-counter ones. Check with your GP or pharmacist before taking anything in combination with this medication.

Find out more about ACE inhibitors.

Calcium channel blockers

Calcium channel blockers keep calcium from entering the muscle cells of the heart and blood vessels. This widens your arteries (large blood vessels) and reduces your blood pressure.

Drinking grapefruit juice while taking some types of calcium blockers can increase your risk of side effects. You can discuss the possible risks with your GP or pharmacist.

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.

Find out more about thiazide diuretics.

Beta-blockers

Beta-blockers work by making your heart beat more slowly and with less force, thereby reducing blood pressure.

Beta-blockers used to be a popular treatment for high blood pressure, but now they only tend to be used when other treatments have not worked. This is because beta-blockers are considered to be less effective than the other medications used to treat high blood pressure.

Find out more about beta-blockers.




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Page last reviewed: 04/07/2014

Next review due: 04/07/2016