Calcium Channel Blockers

Calcium channel blockers are medications which are used control high blood pressure, chest pain and arrhythmia. They are available through prescription and work by relaxing blood vessels and increase the blood and oxygen supply to the heart. This reduces the workload of the heart. It can be prescribed by itself or in combination with other medications to treat high blood pressure and angina.

How Do Calcium Channel Blockers Work?

Calcium is required for the conduction of electrical signal from muscle cells to heart muscle cells, which causes the cells to contract. When calcium enters the muscle cells of arteries, the cell contract causes the arteries to dilate. When Calcium channel blockers are consumed, they reduce the electrical conduction in the heart and decrease the force of contraction to dilate the arteries. This reduces the blood pressure and thus the pressure on heart to pump is also reduced.

What Are the Main Types of Calcium Channel Blockers?

1. Diltiazem

This particular calcium channel blocker is used to treat conditions like angina, hypertension and even arrhythmias. Sometimes, if the condition requires, this is combined with beta-blockers as well. Diltiazem should never be taken if you have had heart failure, as it can make the condition worse by "relaxing" the heart.  

2. Verapamil

Similar to Diltiazem, Verapamil is also used primarily to treat conditions like Angina, Hypertension and abnormal heart rate (arrhythmias). It acts by blocking the calcium to the conducting cells in the heart, which slows down the heart rate. This medicine should never be taken by patients who have experienced heart failure. Also, Verapamil should not be combined with beta-blockers medication.

3. Dihydropyridine

This contains various different calcium channel blockers. It is better at relaxing the blood vessels than relaxing the heart muscles as compared to Diltiazem and Verapamil. Most time, it is used for treatment of Angina and hypertension. Since it does not affect the heart muscles, it is not used for treatment of arrhythmias. For this reason, it can be taken by people who have suffered from heart failure. This is also taken in combination with beta-blockers.

What Are the Side Effect of Calcium Channel Blockers?

1. Common Side Effects

  • Ÿ   Tiredness
  • Ÿ   Heartburn
  • Ÿ   Flushing and swelling in the abdomen, ankles and feet

2. Less Common Side Effects

  • Ÿ   Tingling or numbness in the extremities
  • Ÿ   Wheezing
  • Ÿ   Coughing
  • Ÿ   Shortness of breath, dizziness
  • Ÿ   Rapid or shallow heartbeat
  • Ÿ   Difficulty in swallowing, constipation and stomach upset

3. Rare Side Effects

  • Ÿ   Bleeding
  • Ÿ   Swollen and tender gums
  • Ÿ   Headache
  • Ÿ   Fainting
  • Ÿ   Chest Pain
  • Ÿ   Jaundice
  • Ÿ   Fever
  • Ÿ   Rash
  • Ÿ   Vivid dreams

What Should You Tell the Doctor Before Taking Calcium Channel Blockers?

1. Some Special Conditions

You should tell the doctor of the following points if you are considering taking calcium channel blockers:

  • Ÿ  If you are pregnant, lactating or trying to conceive
  • Ÿ  If you are allergic to certain foods and dyes
  • Ÿ  Fall in the age group of over 60 years
  • Ÿ  Have a history of heart failure, other heart or blood vessel ailments
  • Ÿ  Suffer from liver or kidney disease
  • Ÿ  Suffering from low blood sugar, Parkinson’s disease or have history of depression

2. Drugs You Are Using

Since drugs can interact with each other, it is very important to inform your doctor of all the medications you are taking, irrespective of whether they are prescription or over the counter. Some of the drugs that can interact with calcium channel blockers are:

  • Ÿ   Hypertension medication like ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers
  • Ÿ   Diuretics
  • Ÿ   Calcium supplements and vitamin D in large quantities
  • Ÿ   Arrhythmia medication
  • Ÿ   Some types of eye medication
  • Ÿ   Digitalis
  • Ÿ   Any drugs containing corticosteroids

You can learn more tips about calcium channel blockers in the video below: