Alpha blockers are drugs that are used in the treatment of high blood pressure alongside other medications. They may also be prescribed to treat conditions related to the prostate.
- Prescribed to treat hypertension and issues related to the prostate
- Different versions include short action and prolonged action tablets
- Swallow tablets with plenty of water
If you have any concerns about high blood pressure, you can speak to one of our GMC-registered clinicians via our online video consultation service. It’s available from 9.30am until 4.30pm, five days a week.
What are alpha blockers?
Alpha blockers are prescribed to lower high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), and are typically used alongside other medications. They are also commonly prescribed to treat various symptoms related to the prostate gland, including BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia).
What is hypertension?
Hypertension is a condition that rarely presents with noticeable symptoms, but when left untreated can lead to serious health risks, including kidney disease, vascular disease, heart attacks and strokes. It is thought that as many as a third of adults in the UK have hypertension, but many will not be aware of the fact. For this reason, doctor’s surgeries, many pharmacies and even some workplaces provide quick and painless tests to measure your blood pressure levels.
Blood pressure levels are measured by two numbers: systolic pressure (the force with which blood is pumped around the body) and diastolic pressure (resistance to blood flow). Healthy numbers should be in the range of 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg, while high blood pressure is considered as anything above 140/90mmHg or 150/90mmHg if you are over 80 years of age.
What causes hypertension?
There are many causes of hypertension, and any combination of factors can lead to its presence. The main causes include age (being over 65), obesity, genetics (being of African or Caribbean descent or having relatives with the condition), poor diet (too much salt or lack of fruit or vegetables), a lack of exercise, consuming too much alcohol or caffeine, smoking or prolonged periods of poor sleep. Treatment can therefore include a mixture of lifestyle changes and medications, with a combination of these likely in order to lower blood pressure and the risks associated with the condition. Ensuring that you follow a healthy diet, quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol and caffeine and getting regular exercise is essential in managing the condition.
What is benign prostatic hyperplasia?
Benign prostatic hyperplasia, also known as benign prostate enlargement, is usually a condition that presents with no health risks, but can lead to discomfort and impact on someone’s well being. In rare cases, UTIs (urinary tract infections) can occur as a result.
Symptoms of BPH are related to urination, with the frequent need to urinate, difficulty emptying the bladder and problems at the beginning of urination being the most common. Symptoms range from mild, where issues have little impact on someone’s life, to severe.
What causes benign prostatic hyperplasia?
BPH is caused by the enlargement of the prostate gland, which can be found between the penis and bladder. When this enlargement presses on the bladder, symptoms of the conditions appear. Although it is not fully understood why this enlargement happens, it is a common occurrence for men as they age and is likely related to hormone changes.
How is benign prostatic hyperplasia diagnosed?
Diagnosis can require a number of tests, which may include a urine sample. Other tests will entail a visit to your local hospital. Not all the tests you will undertake will be related to BPH, with other conditions needing to be ruled out first due to their seriousness, no matter how unlikely, such as prostate cancer.
How is benign prostatic hyperplasia treated?
Treatment for BPH will be largely informed by the severity of symptoms. For people with mild symptoms, regular check-ups and lifestyle changes are recommended. These should include avoiding artificial sweeteners, decreasing your intake of fizzy drinks, caffeine and alcohol, ensuring you get regular exercise and drinking less in the evenings. For more severe cases, medications, such as alpha blockers, will be prescribed. Should the condition not respond to these practices and treatments, surgery may be suggested.
How do alpha blockers work?
Alpha blockers are not usually the first line treatment for hypertension and are used in combination with other medications to ensure that the best results in managing the condition are achieved. The most common of these are diuretics (such as Furosemide), which is the most commonly prescribed medication for high blood pressure. Alpha blockers work by relaxing the blood vessels. It achieves this by preventing the action of the hormone norepinephrine, which tightens the walls of the arteries and veins, restricting blood flow.
For BPH, alpha blockers work in a similar way, relaxing the muscles around the prostate gland, as well as those at the bottom of the bladder. This makes urination easier to begin and the need to urinate less frequent.
You can book an appointment with one of our GPhC-registered clinicians regarding alpha blockers using our online video consultation service. Our clinicians are available from 9.30am-4.30pm, five days a week.
Side effects and warnings
You should inform your prescribing doctor if you are about to undergo an operation for cataracts as these medications can cause issues during surgery. You should also inform your doctor if you are pregnant or have heart or liver disease. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience a heart attack, weakness of the limbs, problems speaking, and swelling of the face, tongue or throat.
The most common side effects (occurring in up to one in 10 people) include: increased or decreased heart rate, palpitations, dizziness, vertigo, headaches, low blood pressure, swollen feet, ankles or fingers, chest colds, coughing, respiratory tract infections, nasal stuffiness, rhinitis, stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, urinary tract infections, incontinence, cystitis, sleepiness, weakness, indigestion, heartburn, dry mouth, itching, back pain, aching muscles and flu-like symptoms.
Uncommon side effects (occurring in up to 1 in 100 people) include: constipation, wind, gastroenteritis, discomfort when urinating, increased frequency in passing urine, blood in urine, gout, general pain, swelling of the face, sleeplessness, agitation, anxiety, depression, an altered sense of touch or sensation of the hands and feet, increased appetite, loss of appetite, weight gain, nose bleeds, skin rashes, tinnitus, tremors, erectile dysfunction, liver enzyme increases and strokes.
Rare side effects (occurring in up to 1 in 1,000 people) include: a frequent need to urinate, muscle cramps and muscle weakness.
Very rare side effects (occurring in up to 1 in 10,000 people) include: dizziness caused by low blood pressure, hepatitis, bile disorder, hives, hair loss, red or purple patches on the skin, bleeding under the skin, tingling or numbness of the hands and feet, fatigue, wheezing, blurred vision, hot flushes needing to pass urine frequently at night and an enlargement of breasts in men.
The following side effects have been reported but there is not enough data to suggest their frequency: little or no semen ejaculated at sexual climax, cloudy urine following sexual climax and eye problems during eye surgery for cataracts.
Other medications during treatment
It is essential that you inform your doctor about any medications you are currently or have recently taken before you start treatment with alpha blockers. Some have experienced dizziness with alpha blockers that can be magnified when taken with drugs prescribed to treat impotence. You should also have your blood pressure monitored if you are taking other hypertension medications alongside these medications to ensure that it does not drop too low.
Alpha blockers are not suitable for everyone
Some alpha blocker tablets may contain lactose and salt. If you have issues with these substances, you should tell your doctor so you can make the most informed decision regarding treatment.
Can I take these medications while pregnant or breastfeeding?
Because the safety of alpha blockers during pregnancy has not been established, you should speak with your doctor if you are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant before you start this treatment. You should avoid using these medications if you are breastfeeding.
Can I drive during treatment with alpha blockers?
You should inform your doctor if you are operating any form of heavy machinery, including driving, as this medication may impair your ability to do so. Avoid driving if you experience dizziness, and seek further advice from your doctor.
Is it safe to consume alcohol during treatment with alpha blockers?
When taken alongside alcohol, alpha blockers can cause low blood pressure. Alcohol consumption should therefore be avoided during treatment.
What are some of the most commonly prescribed alpha blockers?
Among the most commonly prescribed alpha blockers are terazosin, prazosin, tamsulosin alfuzosin and doxazosin.
Can I buy this medication over the counter?
You will need a prescription from a doctor in order to obtain this medication in the UK.
Can I buy alpha blockers online?
If you would like to speak to one of our registered clinicians about alpha blockers, they are available via our online video consultation service, from 9.30am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday.