All of these classes are commonly used to treat high blood pressure in people with diabetes, but ACE inhibitors and ARBs should be considered as first-line treatment. Over the past few decades, numerous studies have shown that these medicines have protective effects independent of their ability to lower blood pressure: They also reduce the complications of diabetes including heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. Further studies are looking into whether using both ACE inhibitors and ARBs together would provide even better cardiovascular and kidney protection. These medicines have become the cornerstone of blood pressure treatment, and there is even some evidence that they may prevent or delay the onset of diabetes.
Calcium channel blockers (CCBs) work by relaxing blood vessels, leading to lower blood pressure. They come in two forms, dihydropyridine (DHP) and non-dihydropyridine (non-DHP) CCBs. The non-DHP CCBs have some protective effects on the kidney not seen with DHP CCBs. The use of non-DHP CCBs in combination with ACE inhibitor and ARB therapy to amplify kidney and heart protection is an area of ongoing research.
Diuretics continue to be a very important class of blood pressure medicines. They reduce a person’s salt and water content by stimulating urination. They work best when a person is following a salt-restricted diet. Beta-blockers lower the blood pressure and slow the heart rate. They have been found to have significant heart-protective qualities, reducing the risk of death after a heart attack and improving the treatment of heart failure. However, both diuretics and beta-blockers are less desirable as first-line treatments in people with diabetes. These medicines may have negative effects on blood glucose control and weight. However, they are often needed eventually if the blood pressure is difficult to control.
Numerous other blood pressure medicines are available and work in many different ways. As a person is treated for high blood pressure, his medicines are gradually increased and “stacked” one on top of another until the goal blood pressure is achieved. On average, it generally takes three or more blood pressure medicines to adequately control high blood pressure in people with diabetes. While some medicines are more beneficial for people with diabetes than others, reaching the target blood pressure of below 130/80 mm Hg without side effects is the goal. If a person is unable to tolerate therapy with ACE inhibitors or ARBs, this goal must be achieved using other medicines. The cost of many of these medicines is high, and for some people cost may play a role in the choice of drugs as well.
Coming up with a plan
It can take several weeks to several months to find the right dose of a drug or combination of drugs — along with lifestyle changes — to achieve consistent blood pressure measurements below 130/80 mm Hg. If your blood pressure is very high to begin with, it may initially be necessary to see your health-care provider as frequently as once a week to adjust your treatment plan. Once your blood pressure is under control, it should be checked every four to six months at your routine diabetes checkups. Your doctor may also recommend more frequent home monitoring. It’s not unusual to eventually need further changes to your blood-pressure-lowering regimen. Some people can maintain control for several years with the same regimen, while others cannot. If blood pressure worsens rapidly, it may be necessary to look for a secondary cause that was not picked up during the first evaluation.
Pursuing blood pressure control with the same vigor as that for blood glucose control will improve your chances of a long and healthy life. The need for multiple medicines and a physically and financially tolerable drug regimen makes controlling hypertension in people with diabetes complicated. Success demands patience and perseverance by you and your health-care team, along with personal motivation and the belief that you can succeed.