ACE inhibitors are a classification of drugs used to treat high blood pressure and other associated problems. They relax the muscles responsible for contracting blood vessels, allowing the vessels to dilate. This action lowers blood pressure, reducing the strain on the heart and kidneys.
The "ACE" in ACE inhibitors stands for angiotensin converting enzyme. This enzyme occurs naturally in the body and acts to raise blood pressure by activating the angiotensin chemical. ACE inhibitors prevent this enzyme from activating the chemical, thereby keeping blood pressure lower.
A wide variety of problems can be treated with ACE inhibitors. Hypertension (high blood pressure), congestive heart failure, kidney problems associated with diabetes, and other heart conditions are all commonly treated with drugs in this class. Common medications include quinapril, lisinopril, benazepril, and ramipril, but there are many others. All have similar methods of action within the body, and all are generally well tolerated by most patients.
ACE inhibitors are often helpful for patients with heart disease or heart failure. By lowering blood pressure, they reduce strain on the heart and help prevent further damage or heart attack in patients with an already weakened heart. Similarly, patients who experience kidney problems as a result of diabetes often benefit from the use of drugs in this class. Because they can cause kidney problems in some patients, these medications are not right for all patients with kidney disorders.
Common side effects of these drugs include cough, dizziness, abnormally low blood pressure (hypotension), headache, drowsiness, kidney problems, and elevated levels of blood potassium. Patients taking potassium supplements or drugs that can increase levels of potassium should consult a medical professional before taking ACE inhibitors, since the medication can also increase potassium levels. Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should not use drugs in this class because they can lead to birth defects. Despite these side effects and contraindications, this medication can be very successful in treating a number of conditions associated with high blood pressure.