ACE Inhibitor Side Effects

Common adverse drug reactions include: hypotension, cough, hyperkalemia, headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and renal impairment. There is also some evidence to suggest that ACE inhibitors might increase inflammation-related pain.

A persistent dry cough is a relatively common adverse effect believed to be associated with the increases in bradykinin levels produced by ACE inhibitors, although the role of bradykinin in producing these symptoms remains disputed by some authors. Patients who experience this cough are often switched to angiotensin II receptor antagonists.

Rash and taste disturbances, infrequent with most ACE inhibitors, are more prevalent in captopril and is attributed to its sulfhydryl moiety. This has led to decreased use of captopril in clinical setting, although it is still used in scintigraphy of the kidney.

Renal impairment is a significant adverse effect of all ACE inhibitors. The reason for this is still unknown. Some suggest that it is associated with their effect on angiotensin II-mediated homeostatic functions such as renal blood flow.

Renal blood flow may be affected by angiotensin II because it vasoconstricts the efferent arterioles of the glomeruli of the kidney, thereby increasing glomerular filtration rate (GFR). Hence, by reducing angiotensin II levels, ACE inhibitors may reduce GFR, a marker of renal function.

Specifically, ACE inhibitors can induce or exacerbate renal impairment in patients with renal artery stenosis. This is especially a problem if the patient is also concomitantly taking an NSAID and a diuretic. When the three drugs are taken together, there is a very high risk of developing renal failure.

ACE inhibitors may cause hyperkalemia. Suppression of angiotensin II leads to a decrease in aldosterone levels. Since aldosterone is responsible for increasing the excretion of potassium, ACE inhibitors ultimately cause retention of potassium.

A severe allergic reaction can occur that rarely can affect the bowel wall and secondarily cause abdominal pain. This "anaphylactic" reaction is very rare as well.

Some patients develop angioedema due to increased bradykinin levels. There appears to be a genetic predisposition towards this adverse effect in patients who degrade bradykinin more slowly than average.

In pregnant women, ACE inhibitors taken during the first trimester have been reported to cause major congenital malformations, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths. Commonly reported fetal abnormalities include hypotension, renal dysplasia, anuria/oliguria, oligohydramnios, intrauterine growth retardation, pulmonary hypoplasia, patent ductus arteriosus, and incomplete ossification of the skull.

Further Reading


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Last Updated: Feb 1, 2011

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