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Ace inhibitors

ACE inhibitors are medicines that are used mainly in the treatment of high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart failure. They are also used in some people with diabetes, for some forms of kidney disease, and after a heart attack, to help protect the heart.

They have a variety of effects on the body. Their ability to relax blood vessels is one of the most important. The side-effects most commonly associated with ACE inhibitors are usually minor. A common side-effect is a persistent dry cough.

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What conditions are ACE inhibitors used to treat?

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are used to treat a number of different conditions:

List of ACE inhibitors

They include:

Each of these medicines also has various different brand names. Some ACE inhibitor medicines are also part of a combined tablet with a calcium-channel blocker medicine or 'water tablet' (diuretic) medicine.

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How do ACE inhibitors work?

ACE inhibitors prevent the body from creating a hormone known as angiotensin II. They do this by blocking (inhibiting) a chemical called angiotensin-converting enzyme.

Angiotensin II has three main effects:

  • Tightening (constriction) of blood vessels.

  • Re-absorption of water by the kidneys (taking water back into the body).

  • Release of the hormone aldosterone which also causes water re-absorption by the kidneys.

Increasing the volume of the blood by adding more water and constricting your blood vessels increases blood pressure.

ACE inhibitors reduce the amount of angiotensin II which causes blood vessels to dilate. The amount of water put back into the blood by the kidneys decreases. These actions reduce blood pressure.

  • In high blood pressure (hypertension), ACE inhibitors should help to reduce the blood pressure.

  • In heart failure, there may be too much circulating fluid in the blood vessels. ACE inhibitors help to reduce this. They appear to have a protective effect on the heart and slow the progression of the heart failure.

Who cannot take ACE inhibitors?

People who should not take ACE inhibitors include:

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women.

  • Those with a known sensitivity to ACE inhibitors.

  • Those who have had a severe allergic response to ACE inhibitors in the past - eg, swelling of the lips, eyes or tongue (angio-oedema).

  • People with certain types of kidney disease - for example, renal artery stenosis.

A full list of people who should not take ACE inhibitors is included with the leaflet that comes with your medicine. If you are prescribed ACE inhibitors, read this to be sure you are safe to take it.

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Side-effects of ACE inhibitors

Side-effects of ACE inhibitors can include:

  • Low blood pressure (hypotension).

  • Dizziness.

  • Persistent dry cough.

  • Swelling of the lips, eyes or tongue (angio-oedema).

  • Decline in kidney function.

If you experience low blood pressure and dizziness you should report it to your doctor.

Note: the above is not the full list of side-effects for these medicines. Please see the leaflet that comes with your particular brand for a full list of possible side-effects and cautions.

A number of medicines may interact with ACE inhibitors. In particular, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), 'water tablets' (diuretics) and lithium. Your doctor will normally check what other medicines you take and give further advice about this.

So, make sure your doctor knows of any other medicines that you are taking, including ones that you have bought rather than been prescribed.

Further reading and references

Article History

The information on this page is written and peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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