High blood pressure strains the heart and damages arteries. Those damaged spots tend to attract clumps of plaque, the stuff that can cause a heart attack. What's more, vessels in the brain can even burst under the pressure. Fortunately there are many different medications to bring pressure down.

With so many choices, your doctor can tailor your prescription to fit your needs.

  • Diuretics such as Lasix and Diuril work by flushing extra salt and water out of the body.
  • Beta-blockers such as Coreg or Lopressor slow down the heart.
  • Calcium channel blockers such as Cardizem or Norvasc relax blood vessels.
  • ACE inhibitors such as Vasotec and Lotensin also relax blood vessels, using a different mechanism.

A drug that lowers blood pressure in other people might not necessarily work for you. You may also have side effects that are stronger or more bothersome than expected.

Ideally your medications should drop your blood pressure down to a little less than 120/80. But you don't want to go too low. A study of more than 22,000 people with coronary artery disease found that cutting diastolic pressure (the bottom number) to less than 70 doubled the risk of dying from heart attack, stroke, or other causes. One explanation could be that, to put it simply, you need a certain amount of pressure to push your blood where it needs to go.

Finding the right drug or combination of drugs is often a matter of trial and error. If one treatment doesn't seem to work or causes unpleasant side effects, there are plenty of other options. One thing that's not an option: giving up on the treatment entirely. High blood pressure is too dangerous —and too preventable— to ignore.