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What Is the Difference between a Beta Blocker and ACE Inhibitor?

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  • Written By: Jami Yontz
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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A beta blocker and ACE inhibitor, which stands for angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor, are medications that reduce hypertension, or high blood pressure, but they act on two different hormones in the body. Beta blockers decrease the way adrenaline affects the person, and ACE inhibitors decrease the amount of angiotensin II that is produced. Hypertension usually is a symptom of another health problem, such as obesity or heart disease. 

Blood pressure can be calculated by measuring the person’s systolic pressure and diastolic pressure, both of which are measured in millimeters of mercury. Systolic pressure is the pressure during a heartbeat, and diastolic pressure is the pressure between beats. High blood pressure is diagnosed if the person’s systolic pressure is more than 140 or if the person’s diastolic pressure is over 90. Blood pressure that is measured consistently above the normal rate can cause damage to the arteries, heart and kidneys. A person who smokes, is obese or has diabetes is more likely to develop hypertension and other related illnesses.

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Beta blocker and ACE inhibitor medications both dilate the blood vessels, relaxing the pressure within the vessels and allowing more blood to flow through them. Also known as beta-adrenergic blocking agents or beta antagonists, beta blockers accomplish this by reducing the affects of adrenaline. The hormone adrenaline is released during times of stress, excitement or physical activity, and the hormone causes the heart to pump faster and the blood vessels to become more narrow, which creates more pressure within the blood vessels. This type of hypertension medication can cause a person to become lightheaded or out of breath easily, because it slows the rate of blood pumping throughout the body. 

ACE inhibitors work by directly affecting the muscles that surround blood vessels. These chemicals prevent the conversion of angiotensin I, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, to angiotensin II, a hormone that cause the arteries around the blood vessels to constrict. The blood vessels are allowed to dilate, which reduces the person’s blood pressure and the amount of work that the heart must do to pump blood throughout the body. ACE inhibitors also increase the amount of sodium in the urine and cause a person to urinate more frequently. This type of medication can cause the person to develop a cough and experience headaches, or it could cause an increase in the person’s potassium levels. 

Beta blocker and ACE inhibitor medications are both effective hypertension remedies, but most physicians will prescribe an ACE inhibitor first. Beta blockers have more side effects than ACE inhibitors, including a slow heart rate, low blood sugar and depression. All beta blocker and ACE inhibitor treatment plans should be discussed with and supervised by a physician.

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