What Are Angiotensin Receptor Blockers?

How ARBs Lower Blood Pressure in People with Hypertension

Checking a patient’s blood pressure.
Checking a patient’s blood pressure. Terry Vine/Getty Images

Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) are one of the medications your health care professional can prescribe to treat high blood pressure. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects about two-thirds of seniors and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are the top two leading causes of death in the United States.

A health care professional may recommend taking ARBs in combination with ACE inhibitors, another type of medication commonly prescribed for hypertension, or other medications.

Sometimes, patients who experience coughing as a side effect of ACE inhibitors, or don't tolerate them well, might be prescribed ARBs as an alternative.

Doctors also prescribe ARBs to treat other health conditions, including heart failure, chronic kidney diseases, and kidney failure in diabetic patients.

How Angiotensin Receptor Blockers Work

This high blood pressure medication works by blocking the actions of a hormone called angiotensin II. When your body releases this hormone, your blood vessels become narrower, which restricts blood flow and raises your blood pressure.

ARBs lower your blood pressure because blocking the hormone's action permits your blood vessels to relax and get wider, which improves blood flow.

Common Brand Name and Generic ARBs

There are several common ARBs prescribed for high blood pressure, including:

  • Edarbi (Azilsartan)
  • Atacand (Candesartan)
  • Teveten (Eprosartan)
  • Avapro (Irbesartan)
  • Cozaar (Losartan)
  • Benicar (Olmesartan)
  • Diovan (Valsartan)
  • Micardis (Telmisartan)

Reported Side Effects of ARBs

Angiotensin receptor blockers are generally well tolerated by most people, and serious side effects are rare. Some reported side effects of ARBs include:

  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Headache
  • Sinus issues, such as a stuffy or runny nose
  • Back and leg pain
  • Stomach problems
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Significant weight loss

Serious side effects are uncommon, but may include:

  • An allergic reaction: hives; trouble breathing; or swelling of your face, including lips, tongue or throat
  • Kidney and/or liver failure
  • Decrease in white blood cells

ARB Precautions

Though ARBs are generally considered safe for the treatment of high blood pressure, like all medications, they come with precautions, which generally include:

Interactions. ARBs may interact with other medications and supplements, including:

Only you and your doctor can decide on a proper medication for treatment of high blood pressure. Be sure to supply the names of any other medications and/or supplements you are taking, including over-the-counter drugs.

Pregnancy. ARBs can cause birth defects. If your pregnant, or even planning to get pregnant, do not take ARBs.

Talk to your health care professional about preventing pregnancy while taking this medication.

Alcohol. If you're taking ARBs, talk to your health care professional before you consume alcoholic beverages. Combined with alcohol, this medication can lower your blood pressure too much, causing dizziness or fainting.

ACE Inhibitors. If you experienced side effects from ACE inhibitors, tell your doctor before taking ARBs.

FDA Safety Report

If you've been doing research on ARBs, you might have seen information from 2010 indicating that an analysis of clinical trials had found a small, but statistically significant, increase in the risk of developing cancer for those taking this medication. Due to this concern, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted a safety review. In 2011, the FDA reached their conclusion and found that people taking ARBs do not have a greater risk of developing cancer.

Sources:

Blood Pressure UK: Angiotensin Receptor Blockers - Blood Pressure Medication

Mayo Clinic: Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: No Increase in Risk of Cancer with Certain Blood Pressure Drugs (2011)

Continue Reading