What Is an Alpha Agonist?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Alpha agonists may be used in conjunction with other drugs in order to achieve the best results.
Alpha agonists may be used in conjunction with other drugs in order to achieve the best results.

An alpha agonist is a chemical compound that stimulates alpha-adrenergic receptors. Normally these receptors interact with transmitters like adrenaline and noradrenaline. An alpha agonist can mimic the effect of these compounds and may be used therapeutically for a variety of purposes. Pharmaceutical companies produce a range of these agonists in different classes, including partially selective medications that can focus on specific kinds of receptors, rather than stimulating all of them.

Alpha agonist may help in the management of glaucoma.
Alpha agonist may help in the management of glaucoma.

The opposite of an alpha agonist is an alpha antagonist, also known as an alpha blocker. These medications prevent stimulation of these receptors by locking on to them. The body's own supply of compounds like adrenaline cannot stimulate the receptor because it is blocked. Medications in this class are available to treat conditions where a doctor wants to decrease stimulation of the alpha-adrenergic receptors. These medications are related to beta agonists and antagonists, another group of medications that act on the beta-adrenergic receptors of the body.

Alpha agonists may be given to people who are suffering from low blood pressure.
Alpha agonists may be given to people who are suffering from low blood pressure.

When patients take alpha agonists, the medications trigger contraction of smooth muscle throughout the body. They are especially active in the blood vessels, particularly the arteries, and have a vasoconstrictive effect. One reason to give this type of compound is shock or low blood pressure. The medication will clamp the blood vessels down to create an increase in the patient's blood pressure. As the patient stabilizes, the doctor can withdraw the medication and the patient should be able to maintain safe blood pressure independently.

Patients on alpha agonist medications may experience bradycarida, which may result in fatigue and dizziness.
Patients on alpha agonist medications may experience bradycarida, which may result in fatigue and dizziness.

Another reason to use an alpha agonist is in the management of glaucoma. The medication can limit the production of fluid in the eye and prevent progressive damage. Anesthesiologists also use these medications in pain management as part of a drug cocktail to address discomfort associated with surgery. Pain management is critical for surgical patients, as untreated pain can prolong healing time and may lead to secondary issues like depression.

Patients on alpha agonist medications may experience restlessness.
Patients on alpha agonist medications may experience restlessness.

Patients on alpha agonist medications can experience some side effects. Some develop headaches because of the vasoconstriction and they may also experience bradycardia, where the heart rate slows down. Some patients also become restless and may develop nausea, vomiting, and discomfort. If a doctor feels such a medication would be appropriate for a patient, she will calculate the dose carefully. In a hospital setting, nurses and other personnel can monitor patients while they are on alpha agonists. If any signs of distress develop, they can intervene to correct the problem.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • Alpha agonists may be used in conjunction with other drugs in order to achieve the best results.
      By: danilkorolev
      Alpha agonists may be used in conjunction with other drugs in order to achieve the best results.
    • Alpha agonist may help in the management of glaucoma.
      By: joshya
      Alpha agonist may help in the management of glaucoma.
    • Alpha agonists may be given to people who are suffering from low blood pressure.
      By: carmeta
      Alpha agonists may be given to people who are suffering from low blood pressure.
    • Patients on alpha agonist medications may experience bradycarida, which may result in fatigue and dizziness.
      By: 9nong
      Patients on alpha agonist medications may experience bradycarida, which may result in fatigue and dizziness.
    • Patients on alpha agonist medications may experience restlessness.
      By: Monkey Business
      Patients on alpha agonist medications may experience restlessness.
    • Experiencing nausea and vomiting is possible for those taking an alpha agonist.
      By: Lars Zahner
      Experiencing nausea and vomiting is possible for those taking an alpha agonist.
    • Alpha agonist may be used in the pain management of surgical patients.
      By: Tyler Olson
      Alpha agonist may be used in the pain management of surgical patients.
    • Patients experiencing bradycardia may exhibit a heart rate that drops below 50 beats per minute.
      By: sudok1
      Patients experiencing bradycardia may exhibit a heart rate that drops below 50 beats per minute.
    • Side effects of alpha agonist medications may include headaches.
      By: Andrzej Wilusz
      Side effects of alpha agonist medications may include headaches.