Understanding the mechanism of action and the pharmacokinetic properties of vasodilatory drugs facilitates optimal use in clinical practice. It should be kept in mind that a drug belongs to a class but is a distinct entity, sometimes derived from a prototype to achieve a specific effect. The most common pharmacokinetic drug improvement is the development of a drug with a half-life sufficiently long to allow an adequate once-daily dosage. Developing a controlled release preparation can increase the apparent half-life of a drug. Altering the molecular structure may also increase the half-life of a prototype drug. Another desirable improvement is increasing the specificity of a drug, which may result in fewer adverse effects, or more efficacy at the target site. This is especially important for vasodilatory drugs which may be administered over decades for the treatment of hypertension, which usually does not interfere with subjective well-being. Compliance is greatly increased with once-daily dosing. Vasodilatory agents cause relaxation by either a decrease in cytoplasmic calcium, an increase in nitric oxide (NO) or by inhibiting myosin light chain kinase. They are divided into 9 classes: calcium antagonists, potassium channel openers, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin-II receptor antagonists, alpha-adrenergic and imidazole receptor antagonists, beta 1-adrenergic agonist, phosphodiesterase inhibitors, eicosanoids and NO donors. Despite chemical differences, the pharmacokinetic properties of calcium antagonists are similar. Absorption from the gastrointestinal tract is high, with all substances undergoing considerable first-pass metabolism by the liver, resulting in low bioavailability and pronounced individual variation in pharmacokinetics. Renal impairment has little effect on pharmacokinetics since renal elimination of these agents is minimal. Except for the newer drugs of the dihydropyridine type, amlodipine, felodipine, isradipine, nilvadipine, nisoldipine and nitrendipine, the half-life of calcium antagonists is short. Maintaining an effective drug concentration for the remainder of these agents requires multiple daily dosing, in some cases even with controlled release formulations. However, a coat-core preparation of nifedipine has been developed to allow once-daily administration. Adverse effects are directly correlated to the potency of the individual calcium antagonists. Treatment with the potassium channel opener minoxidil is reserved for patients with moderately severe to severe hypertension which is refractory to other treatment. Diazoxide and hydralazine are chiefly used to treat severe hypertensive emergencies, primary pulmonary and malignant hypertension and in severe preeclampsia. ACE inhibitors prevent conversion of angiotensin-I to angiotensin-II and are most effective when renin production is increased. Since ACE is identical to kininase-II, which inactivates the potent endogenous vasodilator bradykinin, ACE inhibition causes a reduction in bradykinin degradation. ACE inhibitors exert cardioprotective and cardioreparative effects by preventing and reversing cardiac fibrosis and ventricular hypertrophy in animal models. The predominant elimination pathway of most ACE inhibitors is via renal excretion. Therefore, renal impairment is associated with reduced elimination and a dosage reduction of 25 to 50% is recommended in patients with moderate to severe renal impairment. Separating angiotensin-II inhibition from bradykinin potentiation has been the goal in developing angiotensin-II receptor antagonists. The incidence of adverse effects of such an agent, losartan, is comparable to that encountered with placebo treatment, and the troublesome cough associated with ACE inhibitors is absent.