Calcium channel blockers are a class of drugs used to treat cardiovascular health conditions, particularly high blood pressure, angina and certain arrhythmias, i.e. atrial fibrillation, tachycardia. Their action is effective in lowering high blood pressure, preventing angina chest pain symptoms and normalizing irregular heart rhythms.
How calcium channel blockers work is by preventing calcium ions from entering smooth and cardiac muscle cells. These ions are necessary for muscle contraction. This action relaxes and dilates your blood vessels, allowing your heart’s blood to flow more freely and slowing the rate at which it beats. The result is lower blood pressure, angina pain relief and normalized heart rhythms.
There are several different calcium channel blockers available and their specific ingredients vary. Which one’s action will work best for you depends on your health condition being treated. Yet, the main ingredient in all is a calcium channel antagonist.
A calcium channel blocker will likely be your initial treatment if you have high blood pressure, accompanied by angina and/or a high stroke risk. Otherwise, they’re not typically the drug of choice if you only have high blood pressure and no other form of heart disease. Calcium channel blockers might be used for hypertension should other drugs prove to be ineffective, for instance diuretics, beta blockers or ACE inhibitors.
The benefits of calcium channel blocker’s action may be used to treat other health conditions as well, like:
- heart failure
- heart valve damage
- migraine headaches
- Raynaud’s syndrome
- pulmonary hypertension
- brain aneurysm complications
Because certain calcium channel blockers are only safe to treat certain health conditions, you should never self treat with this medication.
Calcium channel blockers do cause some drug side effects. Some of the most common side effects being:
Not so common or rare side effects from calcium channel blockers may involve:
- chest pain
- vivid dreams
- upset stomach
- racing heart rate
- very slow heartbeat
- swallowing difficulty
- wheezing, coughing, dyspnea
- bleeding, swollen, tender gums
Not all potential side effects are listed, so inform your health care provider ASAP if you experience any of these or any other unusual effects after taking them.
Taking too much of your calcium channel blocker is extremely dangerous. Symptoms of an overdose are:
- slow heartbeat
- slurred speech
- irregular heartbeat
- shortness of breath
Death can ensue from a calcium channel blocker overdose. Therefore, seek emergency medical treatment immediately upon initial symptoms.
Certain drugs, foods, supplements and nicotine can affect the action of calcium channel blockers. As such, you may be advised not to smoke, ingest grapefruit juice nor take large doses of calcium and Vitamin D supplements. And you’ll need to inform your health care provider about any drug you are taking so an interaction assessment can be made.