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What Are the Differences Between Beta Blockers and Calcium Channel Blockers?

Beta blockers are often prescribed to treat hypertension.
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  • Written By: Jay Leone
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2014
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On beta blockers and calcium channel blockers, a person’s heart beats more slowly than usual and with less force, effectively reducing blood pressure. General blood flow improves on these medications. While beta blockers and calcium channel blockers do have some similarities, there remain several differences between them. The biggest differences between them are the way they work, the conditions they are used to treat, and possible side effects linked with their use. Doctors usually recommend calcium channel blockers for reducing blood pressure only when beta blockers cannot be used.

Beta blockers and calcium channel blockers both work differently with the body. A beta blocker works to block chemicals such as epinephrine and norepinephrine from binding to the beta receptors found on nerves. Blocking these hormones can effectively reduce heart rate and blood pressure. To reduce blood pressure and heart rate, a calcium channel blocker will dilate the arteries and prevent calcium from entering heart or blood cells. Also referred to as calcium antagonists, calcium channel blockers affect muscle cells in arterial walls, widening and relaxing blood vessels.

Beta blockers are traditionally recommended in the treatment of such conditions as high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythm, heart failure, and chest pain. Certain people who suffer from migraines may feel relief after taking a beta blocker. A beta blocker may also be used to prevent further heart attacks after an initial heart attack.

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Other conditions treated with beta blockers include hyperthyroidism, tremors, and generalized anxiety disorder. Some beta blockers can reduce aqueous humor production in the eye, which reduces the pressure linked with glaucoma. While calcium channel blockers can reduce blood pressure and help treat migraines, they are also often employed to treat other conditions such as Raynaud’s disease, irregular heartbeat, and complications with brain aneurysms.

Cold hands, fatigue, headache, upset stomach, and dizziness are common side effects associated with beta blockers. Less common side effects linked with them include trouble sleeping, shortness of breath, and depression. In people with asthma, they may trigger severe asthma attacks. Beta blockers are also known to block the signs of low blood sugar in people with diabetes.

Some of the more common side effects linked with calcium channel blockers include rapid heart beat, dizziness, nausea, and flushing. Certain people may experience swelling of the lower legs and feet while on a calcium channel blocker. Many of these blockers interact with grapefruit and should not be taken with grapefruit juice or other grapefruit products. Taking these blockers with grapefruit products may reduce the body’s ability to process calcium.

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