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Pharmacology Of Angiotensin-converting Enzyme Inhibitors

Discover the fascinating world of angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and their role in pharmacology, unraveling their incredible potential in treating hypertension and heart failure.

USMLE Guide: Pharmacology of Angiotensin-converting Enzyme Inhibitors


In this USMLE guide, we will explore the pharmacology of angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors). ACE inhibitors are a class of medications commonly used to manage various cardiovascular conditions, such as hypertension, heart failure, and diabetic nephropathy. Understanding the mechanism of action, pharmacokinetics, clinical uses, adverse effects, and contraindications of ACE inhibitors is essential for medical students preparing for the USMLE.

Mechanism of Action

ACE inhibitors work by inhibiting the angiotensin-converting enzyme, which is responsible for converting angiotensin I to angiotensin II. By inhibiting this enzyme, ACE inhibitors reduce the production of angiotensin II, a potent vasoconstrictor, and also decrease the breakdown of bradykinin, a vasodilator. This results in overall vasodilation, decreased systemic vascular resistance, and reduced sodium and water retention.


  • Absorption: ACE inhibitors are well-absorbed orally, with variable bioavailability. Food intake may decrease their absorption.
  • Distribution: ACE inhibitors have good tissue penetration and can cross the blood-brain barrier. They are highly protein-bound.
  • Metabolism: Most ACE inhibitors undergo hepatic metabolism, primarily via cytochrome p450 enzymes.
  • Excretion: The majority of ACE inhibitors are excreted renally, and dose adjustments are necessary in patients with renal impairment.

Clinical Uses

  • Hypertension: ACE inhibitors are commonly used as first-line agents for treating hypertension. They reduce blood pressure by vasodilation and inhibition of aldosterone secretion, thus decreasing sodium and water retention.
  • Heart Failure: ACE inhibitors are beneficial in heart failure as they reduce afterload, preload, and ventricular remodeling. They improve survival, decrease symptoms, and slow disease progression.
  • Diabetic Nephropathy: ACE inhibitors are renoprotective in patients with diabetic nephropathy. They reduce intraglomerular pressure, proteinuria, and slow the progression of renal disease.
  • Post-Myocardial Infarction: ACE inhibitors are recommended after myocardial infarction to improve survival, prevent ventricular remodeling, and reduce the risk of recurrent myocardial infarction.

Adverse Effects

  • Dry Cough: ACE inhibitors can cause a persistent, dry cough due to increased bradykinin levels. If intolerable, alternative medications like angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) may be used.
  • Angioedema: Rarely, ACE inhibitors can cause angioedema, characterized by swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat. This is a potentially life-threatening adverse effect.
  • Hyperkalemia: ACE inhibitors can increase serum potassium levels, especially in patients with renal impairment or concurrent use of potassium-sparing diuretics or potassium supplements.
  • First-dose Hypotension: Some patients may experience symptomatic hypotension shortly after the first dose of an ACE inhibitor, particularly in volume-depleted individuals.
  • Renal Impairment: ACE inhibitors can cause acute renal failure, especially in patients with renal artery stenosis or pre-existing renal dysfunction.


  • Pregnancy: ACE inhibitors are contraindicated in pregnancy as they can cause fetal harm, including fetal death or congenital malformations.
  • Angioedema: Patients with a history of angioedema associated with ACE inhibitors should avoid further use of these medications.
  • Bilateral Renal Artery Stenosis: ACE inhibitors are contraindicated in patients with bilateral renal artery stenosis, as they can cause acute renal failure.
  • Hyperkalemia: Patients with severe hyperkalemia should avoid ACE inhibitors due to the risk of further increasing serum potassium levels.

Remember to review specific drug names, dosages, and interactions as these may vary among ACE inhibitors. This guide provides a general overview for USMLE preparation purposes.

Good luck with your USMLE studies!

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