Updated 07 July 2014

How vasodilators work

Vasodilators, which reduce arterial tension, are one of the most common treatment methods for serious hypertension.


High blood pressure, or hypertension, has been described as the silent killer of the 21st century. Despite having few obvious external signs, the condition can affect a wide range of bodily and severely shorten the victim’s life span.

Hypertension is said to be present if the individual’s blood pressure is consistently above 140/90 mmHg. At this point the main medical priority should be to sustainably lower the blood pressure to within normal levels.

One of the most common methods utilised for this are blood-vessel dilation medications, also known as vasodilators.

One of the causes of hypertension can be chronic, unnecessary tension in the walls of the arteries. Arteries differ from veins in that they contain a thick layer of muscle which can contract or dilate depending on the needs of the body.

High blood pressur
e can be useful in situations whereby the body is under stress. By widening, the blood vessels the body can ensure that blood travels around the circulatory system faster, increasing the supply of oxygen and other important nutrients where they’re needed.

What is hypertension?

Unfortunately, certain factors can cause the blood flow to be unnecessarily high, increasing blood pressure which can lead to medical complications. It has also been suggested that unnecessary tension in the arteries could be partly to blame.

The pressure put on the heart by this condition can cause several kinds of heart disease as well as putting the person at high risk for
strokes and kidney disease.

Vasodilators work by targeting these tense muscles in the walls of arteries and forcing them to relax, widening the path through which blood can flow.

This increased space effectively and quickly
reduces blood pressure across the system and thus diminishes the amount of stress the heart is being put under.

Hypertension and diet

This relaxation works by removing the stimulus that is causing the muscles to tense.

Medication largely works by manipulating the amount of calcium in the space between muscle cells. Different medications accomplish this by different mechanisms.

While vasodilators are unlikely to solve the root cause of high blood pressure, of which there are often many, they are effective at minimising the potentially severe negative effects of the condition.

Taken chronically, it is possible that vasodilators can delay the serious side effects of high blood pressure for many years. This is especially true if they form part of an overall strategy from removing both the
causes and symptoms of hypertension.

Read more:
Alcohol and hypertension 
Preventing hypertension 
Hypertension and your weight


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Hypertension expert

Dr Jacomien de Villiers qualified as a specialist physician at the University of Pretoria in 1995. She worked at various clinics at the Department of Internal Medicine, Steve Biko Hospital, these include General Internal Medicine, Hypertension, Diabetes and Cardiology. She has run a private practice since 2001, as well as a consultant post at the Endocrine Clinic of Steve Biko Hospital.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules