Direct Vasodilators and Sympatholytic Agents

J Cardiovasc Pharmacol Ther. 2016 Jan;21(1):3-19. doi: 10.1177/1074248415587969. Epub 2015 Jun 1.


Direct vasodilators and sympatholytic agents were some of the first antihypertensive medications discovered and utilized in the past century. However, side effect profiles and the advent of newer antihypertensive drug classes have reduced the use of these agents in recent decades. Outcome data and large randomized trials supporting the efficacy of these medications are limited; however, in general the blood pressure-lowering effect of these agents has repeatedly been shown to be comparable to other more contemporary drug classes. Nevertheless, a landmark hypertension trial found a negative outcome with a doxazosin-based regimen compared to a chlorthalidone-based regimen, leading to the removal of α-1 adrenergic receptor blockers as first-line monotherapy from the hypertension guidelines. In contemporary practice, direct vasodilators and sympatholytic agents, particularly hydralazine and clonidine, are often utilized in refractory hypertension. Hydralazine and minoxidil may also be useful alternatives for patients with renal dysfunction, and both hydralazine and methyldopa are considered first line for the treatment of hypertension in pregnancy. Hydralazine has also found widespread use for the treatment of systolic heart failure in combination with isosorbide dinitrate (ISDN). The data to support use of this combination in African Americans with heart failure are particularly robust. Hydralazine with ISDN may also serve as an alternative for patients with an intolerance to angiotensin antagonists. Given these niche indications, vasodilators and sympatholytics are still useful in clinical practice; therefore, it is prudent to understand the existing data regarding efficacy and the safe use of these medications.

Keywords: heart failure; hypertension; sympatholytics; vasodilators.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antihypertensive Agents / adverse effects
  • Antihypertensive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Heart Failure / diagnosis
  • Heart Failure / drug therapy*
  • Heart Failure / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / diagnosis
  • Hypertension / drug therapy*
  • Hypertension / physiopathology
  • Patient Selection
  • Risk Factors
  • Sympatholytics / adverse effects
  • Sympatholytics / therapeutic use*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vasodilation / drug effects*
  • Vasodilator Agents / adverse effects
  • Vasodilator Agents / therapeutic use*


  • Antihypertensive Agents
  • Sympatholytics
  • Vasodilator Agents