What are Calcium Channel Blockers?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Calcium channel blockers (CCBs) are medications used in the treatment of a variety of heart conditions and high blood pressure. In this context, they work by blocking or preventing a certain amount of calcium from getting into the heart. They don’t reduce calcium totally, but they do slow its progress into the heart and through blood vessels. Blood vessels relax and passage of blood is smoother. A number of other conditions exist for which calcium channel blockers might be prescribed, and there are many drugs that fall into this class.

A physician might prescribe calcium channel blockers to treat heart conditions and high blood pressure.
A physician might prescribe calcium channel blockers to treat heart conditions and high blood pressure.

The cardiovascular and heart conditions for which calcium channel blockers are often prescribed include high blood pressure or hypertension. These medications might also be used to treat angina, since the slowed rate of calcium flow may reduce constricting of the blood vessels that this painful condition causes. Some CCBs are prescribed for the treatment of dysrhythmias or arrhythmias, too. Alternately, people with high lung pressure (pulmonary hypertension) have success reducing this with a CCB. Occasionally, people have multiple heart conditions like arrhythmia and angina, and a CCB could be the most appropriate drug.

Calcium channel blockers can be effective in treating migraine headaches and anxiety disorders.
Calcium channel blockers can be effective in treating migraine headaches and anxiety disorders.

A smaller population of people who do not have a heart condtiion could also benefit from calcium channel blockers. There is some indication they may work as mood stabilizers and be of assistance to people with anxiety disorders or bipolar disorder. The latter is particularly under investigation because some CCBs may be somewhat safer to administer to pregnant women than are most traditional mood stabilizers or antipsychotics. A few CCBs are useful in the treatment of migraine headaches, too.

Some research suggests that calcium channel blockers may be effective in treating anxiety and bipolar disorder.
Some research suggests that calcium channel blockers may be effective in treating anxiety and bipolar disorder.

There are quite a few drugs that are considered calcium channel blockers and each may have its own profile of side effects, risks, and benefits. Some medications that make this list include verapamil, amlodipine and dilatiazem. Others are nifedipine, felodipine, and nicardipine. There are still more CCBs and others might arrive on the market if they are considered improvement on the present supply.

Calcium channel blockers allow the blood vessels to relax so that the passage of blood is smoother and high blood pressure is reduced.
Calcium channel blockers allow the blood vessels to relax so that the passage of blood is smoother and high blood pressure is reduced.

Though each medication differs, a group of side effects can be attributed to calcium channel blockers. Degree these are felt depends on individual patients and particular drugs. As a whole group, CCBs are associated with erectile dysfunction, reduced libido, and reduction of blood pressure levels to dangerous points. They may also cause problems with constipation, other forms of stomach upset, skin rash, headache and water retention, particularly in the legs and feet. Not all people experience these side effects, but careful monitoring of people on these medications is needed, as they may occasionally cause liver problems with long-term use.

Calcium channel blockers may be used to treat angina.
Calcium channel blockers may be used to treat angina.

Like all drugs, calcium channel blockers have both benefits and risks. They also have drug interactions. People should understand these by speaking with their doctor when these medications are prescribed. Doctor and patient should carefully review all medications taken, including those that are over the counter or herbals/supplements. Some adjustment might need to be made to what medications can be used, or a CCB might be inappropriate when people routinely use certain other drugs.

Side effects of calcium channel blockers may include stomach upset.
Side effects of calcium channel blockers may include stomach upset.
Some CCBs may be safer to administer to pregnant women than most traditional mood stabilizers.
Some CCBs may be safer to administer to pregnant women than most traditional mood stabilizers.
CCBs are associated with the reduction of blood pressure levels.
CCBs are associated with the reduction of blood pressure levels.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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