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Alpha1-adrenergic blockers are drugs that work by blocking the alpha1-receptors of vascular smooth muscle, thus preventing the uptake of catecholamines by the smooth muscle cells. This causes vasodilation and allows blood to flow more easily.
These drugs, called alpha blockers for short, are used for two main purposes: to treat high blood pressure (hypertension) and to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a condition that affects men and is characterized by an enlarged prostate gland.
High blood pressure puts a strain on the heart and the arteries. Over time, hypertension can damage the blood vessels to the point of causing stroke, heart failure or kidney failure. People with high blood pressure may also be at higher risk for heart attacks. Controlling high blood pressure makes these problems less likely. Alpha blockers help lower blood pressure by causing vasodilation, meaning an increase in the diameter of the blood vessels, which allows blood to flow more easily.
This condition particularly affects older men. Over time, the prostate, a donut-shaped gland below the bladder, enlarges. When this happens, it may interfere with the passage of urine from the bladder out of the body. Men who are diagnosed with BPH may have to urinate more often. Or they may feel that they can not completely empty their bladders. Alpha blockers inhibit the contraction of prostatic smooth muscle and thus relax muscles in the prostate and the bladder, allowing urine to flow more freely.
Commonly prescribed alpha blockers for hypertension and BPH include doxazosin (Cardura, prazosin (Minipress) and terazosin (Hytrin). Prazosin is also used in the treatment of heart failure. All are available only with a physician's prescription and are sold in tablet form.
The recommended dose depends on the patient and the type of alpha blocker and may change over the course of treatment. The prescribing physician will gradually increase the dosage, if necessary. Some patients may need as much as 15-20 mg per day of terazosin, 16 mg per day of doxazosin, or as much as 40 mg per day of prazosin, but most people benefit from lower doses. As the dosage increases, so does the possibility of unwanted side effects.
Alpha blockers should be taken exactly as directed, even if the medication does not seem to be working at first. It should not be stopped even if symptoms improve because it needs to be taken regularly to be effective. Patients should avoid missing any doses, and should not take larger or more frequent doses to make up for missed doses.
Author Info: Nancy Ross-Flanigan, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002
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