Are High Blood Pressure Medications Healthy For You?
Besides lowering blood pressure, all antihypertensive drugs can produce undesirable side effects. This is not surprising, since they alter basic body functions not only in the blood vessels but in the nervous system and kidneys as well. Since they alter basic functions, all drugs must have several effects. Even if a drug acts on only one type of molecule in the body, because all systems in the body are interconnected it almost certainly will produce other effects.
As examples, by limiting the ability of the heart to beat faster, beta blockers reduce the ability of a person to exercise, and thiazide diuretics produce abnormal changes in the composition of body fluids, including blood cholesterol. So by altering basic bodily functions, drugs affect the ability of the body to adapt to different situations.
Typical side effects of some of the more commonly used antihypertensive drugs include urinary loss of potassium, fatigue, gastric irritation, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, rash, weakness, nasal congestion, impotence (loss of sex drive), congestive heart failure, mental depression, short-term memory loss,12 and in the case of beta blockers, reduction of ability to exercise. In fact, the reduction in blood pressure is associated not with improvement in the function of the cardiovascular system, but rather with a suppression of cardiac function. Sometimes other drugs are added to treat these side effects. In addition, antihypertensive drugs may adversely affect other diseases.
How common are complications due to these drugs? Well, in a government sponsored study of over five thousand patients being treated with drugs for high blood pressure, it turned out that the drug-treated group had fewer strokes, but a worse outcome in coronary disease. In fact, after ten years of treatment, death due to coronary heart disease was significantly greater in the drug-treated group than in the untreated group. However, no significant effect upon overall rate of death was observed.
Altogether, these studies were seen to justify the assumption that antihypertensive drug treatment saves lives and reduces fatal and nonfatal complications of this threat to health. So in spite of the fact that some physicians had begun to worry about the increasing number of totally unexpected adverse effects for the last forty-five years almost all people diagnosed as having primary hypertension have faced the prospect of a lifetime of treatment with drugs.