27. Drugs that increase regional blood flow. Drug treatment of obesity

Page created on June 4, 2019. Last updated on January 7, 2022 at 22:03

Introduction to drugs used to enhance regional blood flow

These drugs are used to enhance perfusion of organs, either because they require more perfusion or because their perfusion has been compromised by vasospasm or atherosclerosis. More precisely, these drugs are useful in peripheral artery disease-induced intermittent claudication, erectile dysfunction and Raynaud phenomenon.

In cases where one artery is blocked by atherosclerotic regions, giving drugs to enhance the blood flow may cause blood to be routed to other arteries. Blood will then be “stolen” from the ischaemic region supplied by the atherosclerotic artery. This is called steal syndrome.

Many of these drugs enhance microcirculation by increasing the deformability of RBCs, inhibiting platelet aggregation or enhancing fibrinolysis.


Dihydropyridines like nifedipine and nimodipine.


Can be used to treat vasospasm after a subarachnoid haemorrhage, to increase blood flow to ischaemic brain tissue. They’re also the first-line choice for treating Raynaud phenomenon.

Mechanism of action:

Block calcium channels, preventing influx of calcium ions into smooth muscles of vessels. This decreases their muscle tone and causes vasodilation.

Phosphodiesterase inhibitors
  • Sildenafil (Viagra)
  • Cilostazol


Sildenafil treats erectile dysfunction. Can also be used to treat pulmonary hypertension. Unlike alprostadil sildenafil only induces erection in the context of sexual stimulation.

Cilostazol are used to treat intermittent claudication.

Mechanism of action:

Sildenafil inhibits phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5). This isoform of PDE is found in the corpus cavernosum (and the pulmonary circulation).

When sexual stimulation the brain signals the corpus cavernosum to release NO. This activates guanylate cyclase, which forms cGMP which causes muscle relaxation in the corpus cavernosum, allowing blood to enter. These drugs inhibit PDE5 and therefore inhibit the degradation of cGMP, causing a stronger and longer-lasting erection.

Cilostazol inhibit phosphodiesterase in RBCs, causing an increase in cAMP levels. This increases the deformity of the RBC membrane.

Side effects:

Hypotension with reflex tachycardia, headache, dizziness, flush. Sildenafil causes visual disturbances.



Peripheral artery disease, erectile dysfunction.

Mechanism of action:

Alprostadil is a synthetic prostaglandin E1 (PGE1). It increases the deformability of RBCs, inhibit platelet aggregation and enhances fibrinolysis. These changes enhance the microcirculation.


For erectile dysfunction it is injected into the penis. For peripheral artery disease it is given IV.

Side effects:

Hypotension, tachycardia.



Severe peripheral artery disease with risk for gangrene or amputation.

Mechanism of action:

It is a synthetic prostacyclin I2 (PGI2). It induces vasodilation and inhibits platelet aggregation.

Cinnarizine and flunarizine


For peripheral vasospastic diseases like Raynaud’s phenomenon, Meniere syndrome, motion sickness and migraine prophylaxis.

Mechanism of action:

These drugs are both calcium channel blockers and antihistamines.

Adrenergic alpha antagonists
  • Phentolamine
  • Prazosin


Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Mechanism of action:

These drugs block the alpha receptor-mediated vasoconstriction.

Introduction to obesity

Obesity is a complex disease that shouldn’t be treated with drugs unless absolutely necessary. Behavioural therapy, dietary changes and increased physical therapy should be tried before drug therapy can be considered. Only if these measures show unsatisfactory results can drug or surgical treatments be considered.

Patient compliance should be high and there should be no contraindications before drug therapy is initiated.

The weight lost by these drugs is usually regained after unless the patient learns to change their lifestyle.


Pregnancy or lactation. Unstable heart disease. Severe hypertension. Psychiatric disorders.


Mechanism of action:

Orlistat is a pancreatic lipase inhibitor. By inhibiting this enzyme, the absorption of ingested fat can be decreased. Up to 1/3 of ingested fats can be blocked from absorption.

It also decreases LDL cholesterol levels and decreases HbA1c in diabetics.

Side effects:

Steatorrhoea. Fat soluble vitamin deficiency. These side-effects can be reduced by reducing fat intake.


3 times daily, with meals (obviously).


Increases effects of coumarins due to decreased absorption of vitamin K.


Mechanism of action:

Liraglutide is a GLP-1 derivative. It stimulates insulin release, inhibits glucagon release and slows gastric emptying. It’s primarily used in diabetics, but it is also effective in obesity if given in higher doses as it decreases hunger.

These effects decrease the blood sugar and therefore decrease the risk for all diabetes-associated complications.

Side effects:

Nausea, vomiting.


This drug is not a first-choice option as it has more severe side-effects than the other available drugs.

Mechanism of action:

Bupropion is an antidepressant and smoking cessation drug. Naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist used to treat opioid dependence. Combined they have an appetite-suppressing effect.

Side effects:

Side effects are common. It may affect the mood and increase the risk for suicide.


This drug is not available for use in the EU and for that reason is probably not that important.

Mechanism of action:

Lorcaserin is a 5-HT2C receptor agonist, which suppresses the appetite.

Phentermine, benzphetamine

These drugs should not be used more than 12 weeks in a row to prevent dependence.

Mechanism of action:

These drugs are indirect sympathomimetics. They are structurally related to amphetamines and have amphetamine-like suppressing effects on the appetite.

Other treatments for obesity

Decreasing the size of the lumen of the stomach causes the patient to feel full earlier and therefore consume less food. Several surgical treatments can be used to do this.

Intra-gastric balloon: A balloon can be inserted into the stomach endoscopically and inflated. The balloon takes up space in the stomach. This is not a long-term solution.

Bariatric surgery: This term refers to many surgical treatments aimed at decreasing the size of the stomach. The most common is the gastric bypass, where part of the stomach is bypassed and the food enters the small intestine directly.

2 thoughts on “27. Drugs that increase regional blood flow. Drug treatment of obesity”

  1. Hello! It is written that DHP also prevent calcium influx into the myocardium but, are not DHP specific for vessels?

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