You probably already know that blood pressure medications can keep your blood pressure at a healthy level—but do you know how they do that? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that relaxing your blood vessels, decreasing the levels of water and salt in your blood, and regulating the force of your heartbeat are just a few of the ways blood pressure drugs help keep hypertension under control.
It's always a good idea to ask questions before starting any new prescription drug, and pharmacists "are always happy to address any medication-related questions or concerns you may have, to make sure your medications are effective and to reduce the risk of side effects," says Katlyn Holt, PharmD, a clinical pharmacist and assistant lecturer in The University of Toledo College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Read on for four crucial questions to ask your pharmacist before you fill your prescription for blood pressure medication.
READ THIS NEXT: This Is Why Your High Blood Pressure Isn't Responding to Medication.
How does the medication work?
Have you ever talked to your pharmacist about how your medication actually works? This kind of knowledge is helpful, not just so that you know what's going on in your body, but to help you decide what kind of lifestyle choices you should make to optimize the effects of the drug.
For example, one type of medication aimed at treating hypertension is a class of drugs called diuretics. "Diuretics help the body get rid of excess sodium (salt) and water and help control blood pressure," explains the American Heart Association.
But if you're taking diuretics, it's important to know that they may lower your body's supply of potassium and result in "symptoms such as weakness, leg cramps, or being tired," says the AHA. "Eating foods containing potassium may help prevent significant potassium loss." Potassium-rich foods include bananas, squash, beans, spinach, and avocados—just to name a few.
Does this medication have any interactions?
"Before starting a blood pressure medication, or adding on new blood pressure medications, it is always important to check with your pharmacist for drug class duplications or interactions, including medications you can purchase over the counter," advises Holt. This includes remedies like vitamins or other types of supplements. Certain foods may present a problem, as well.
Bethanne Brown, a professor of pharmacy practice at the J.L. Winkle College of Pharmacy at the University of Cincinnati, tells AARP that you should decrease the amount of potassium-rich foods in your diet if you're taking an ACE inhibitor. "You can get high potassium levels in your body, which can lead to potentially dangerous heart arrhythmias," says Brown.
How should I take the medication?
"High blood pressure drugs work best if you take them as your doctor has prescribed them," says Holt. And taking medication isn't always as simple as remembering to swallow a tablet once or twice daily.
If you haven't discussed this thoroughly with your doctor, ask your pharmacist about the best way to take your prescriptions so they work as well—and as safely—as they can. Are they better taken in the morning, or at night? Should they be taken with food? What should you do if you miss a dose?
For more health news sent directly to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
What side effects should I be aware of?
There are several different reasons you'll want to know if the blood pressure medication you're taking has any potential side effects. For one thing, a sudden condition like nausea or an unexpected rash can be scary. For another, some drug side effects are mild and go away on their own—while others are dangerous, or may require other drugs to control them.
While not everyone will experience side effects from a medication, "It is good to know which ones are most common, and which are more serious," says Lifespan, which recommends that you ask your pharmacists about the warning signs of an allergic reaction. "That way, you can know when it is best to call your doctor or go to an urgent care facility," the site advises.
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.