Vasoconstrictors are drugs or medications that cause constriction of the blood vessels. Medically, vasoconstrictors are used for several reasons: to increase blood pressure, to decrease congestion (Sudafed), to decrease redness and itching in the eyes (Visine), or to control bleeding (cocaine or epinephrine). Vasoconstrictors are also commonly abused drugs, such as cocaine and nicotine. However, their vasoconstricting effect is coincidental to their addictive effect, and is a large part of the adverse health effect these drugs have on frequent users. The vasoconstrictive effect of cocaine, for example, is a large part of the reason why people who snort cocaine eventually wind up with a hole in their nasal septum: deprived of blood supply, the tissue eventually necroses. In the same way, people who use nicotine are more susceptible to frostbite, because their peripheral blood vessels are not supplying enough blood to their fingers and toes.


Brand/Generic Drug Names

cocaine, Allerest/naphazoline, Visine/tetrahydrolozine, Op-Thal-Zin/zinc sulfate, Rhindecon/phenylpropanolamine, Sudafed/pseudoephedrine, Ephed II/ephedrine, methoxamine, Aramine/ metaraminol, Epifrin/epinephrine, Levophed/norepinephrine, nicotine
Common uses
increase blood pressure and cardiac output in severely decompensated states, decrease nasal congestion, control bleeding, ocular congestion or itching
cause vasoconstriction by adrenergic action on blood vessels
Class contraindications
allergy, severe hypertension, MAO inhibitor use within past 14 days
Class precautions
hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus, ischemic heart disease, increased intraocular pressure, prostatic hypertrophy
Increased vasopressor effect: beta blockers, MAO inhibitors, sympathomimetics
Adverse Reactions
anxiety, arrhythmias, central nervous system depression, dizziness, hallucinations, headache, insomnia, palpitations, psychological disturbances, respiratory difficulty, seizures, tachycardia, urinary retention, vomiting
Date of most recent Update
Spetember 14, 2002
Further information is available in the writeup for the specific name(s) of this medication class