Uses for alpha blockers

Doctors prescribe alpha blockers to prevent, treat or improve symptoms in conditions such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia)
  • Some circulatory conditions, such as Raynaud's disease
  • Hardening and thickening of the skin (scleroderma)
  • Adrenal gland tumors (pheochromocytoma)

Though alpha blockers are commonly used to treat high blood pressure, they're typically not preferred as the first treatment option. Instead, they're used in combination with other drugs, such as diuretics, when your high blood pressure is difficult to control.

Side effects and cautions

Alpha blockers may have what's called a "first-dose effect." When you start taking an alpha blocker, you may develop pronounced low blood pressure and dizziness, which can make you suddenly faint when you rise from a sitting or lying position. As a result, the first dose is often taken at bedtime.

Other side effects include headache, pounding heartbeat, nausea, weakness, weight gain and small decreases in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol).

Alpha blockers can increase or decrease the effects of other medications you take. Tell your doctor if you take any other medications, such as beta blockers, calcium channel blockers or medications used for erectile dysfunction, if you're prescribed an alpha blocker.

Some research has found that some alpha blockers can increase the risk of heart failure with long-term use. While more research is needed to confirm this finding, talk to your doctor if you're concerned.

Feb. 01, 2014 See more In-depth