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Understanding Calcium Channel Blockers

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 3/28/2011

This article will focus on and discuss calcium channel blocker medications.

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    Calcium channel blockers, also referred to as calcium antagonists, can be used to treat several different medical conditions. However, they are most often used to treat high blood pressure, Raynaud's disease and migraines. They work by helping to prevent calcium from going into the blood vessel wall and heart cells. This in turn helps to lower blood pressure. They also affect the arterial wall muscle cells in order to widen blood vessels. Certain medications of this type can also help to control irregular heartbeat, alleviate chest pain and slow a person's heart rate.

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    Which Conditions Can this Type of Medication Treat?

    Calcium Channel Blockers This type of medication is most often prescribed for treating high blood pressure, but it does have several other uses. It is also prescribed for chest pain, certain circulatory conditions such as Raynaud's disease, complications associated with brain aneurysms and certain arrhythmias. It is also beneficial in treating pulmonary hypertension which is a type of hypertension that affects the arteries of the lungs.

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    What are the Possible Side Effects?

    Like all medications, calcium channel blockers can cause side effects. The severity and length of these side effects will vary from patient to patient. Some patients may experience little to no side effects while others experience significant side effects. The side effects of this type of medication can include lower leg and feet swelling, constipation, nausea, headache, flushing, rapid heartbeat, drowsiness and rash. Other possible side effects include:

    • Rapid or slow heartbeat
    • Tingling or numbness in feet or hands
    • Fatigue
    • Abdominal swelling
    • Heartburn
    • Shortness of breath
    • Coughing and wheezing
    • Dizziness
    • Upset stomach
    • Fainting
    • Chest pain
    • Trouble swallowing
    • Jaundice
    • Fever
    • Vivid dreams
    • Swollen, bleeding or tender gums
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    Interactions and Warnings

    This type of medication will interact with grapefruit and grapefruit products. If taken with grapefruit or a grapefruit product, the liver's ability to eliminate this type of medication from the body will be greatly reduced. If this occurs it can lead up to a build up of the medication in the body which can lead to adverse effects and complications. Contraindications include:

    • Certain dye and food allergies
    • Pregnancy, trying to become pregnant, and breastfeeding
    • Heart failure
    • Heart rhythm problems either past or present
    • Blood vessel or heart problems
    • Low blood sugar
    • History of depression
    • Over 60 years of age
    • Very low blood pressure
    • Liver or kidney disease
    • Parkinson's disease

    Possible drug interactions include:

    • Other high blood pressure medications, specifically ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers
    • Diuretics
    • Certain eye medications
    • High doses of vitamin D or calcium supplements
    • Anti-arrhythmics
    • Digitalis
    • Corticosteroids or other medications similar to cortisone

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    What are the Different Classifications?

    This type of drug comes in a few different classifications. The dihydrophyridine class is most often used to reduce arterial pressure and systemic vascular resistance. The phenylalkylamine class is most often used to treat chest pain, to reverse coronary vasospasm and to decrease myocardial oxygen demand. The benzothiazepine class is most often used to decrease arterial pressure without causing a significant degree of cardiac stimulation.

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    Resources

    Mayo Clinic. (2009). Calcium Channel Blockers. Retrieved on September 29, 2009 from Website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/calcium-channel-blockers/HI00061

    Texas Heart Institute. (2010). Calcium Channel Blockers. Retrieved on September 13, 2010 from the Texas Heart Institute: http://www.texasheart.org/hic/topics/meds/calcmeds.cfm

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    Image Credits

    Prescription Pill Bottle: foxumon - sxc.hu