How Calcium Channel Blockers Can Help Your Heart
If you suffer from high blood pressure, chest pain (angina), irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia), a circulatory problem, such as Raynaud's disease, or even migraine headaches, your doctor may prescribe a calcium channel blocker to relieve your symptoms.
Also called calcium antagonists, calcium channel blockers (CCBs) stop calcium from entering heart cells and blood vessel walls, enabling the blood vessels to relax and widen and increasing the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart. This reduces the amount of work the heart has to do to pump blood throughout the body.
Calcium channel blockers may also be used following a heart attack, and are usually given to patients who cannot take beta-blocking drugs, which work by blocking the effects of adrenaline thereby slowing down the heart.
Some examples of CCBs include:
- Norvasc (amlodipine)
- Plendil (felodipine)
- Cardizem LA, Dilacor XR, Tiazac (dilitazem)
- DynaCirc CR (isradipine)
- Cardene, Cardene SR (nicardipine)
- Procardia, Procardia XL, Adalat CC (nifedipine
- Sular (nisoldipine)
- Carlan Verelan, Covera-HS (verapamil)
Calcium channel blockers are available in both short-acting and long-acting forms. Short-acting CCBs work fast but the effects aren't as long lasting as those provided by the longer-acting drugs and they also differ in their ability to affect heart rate. Your doctor will prescribe the most effective calcium channel blocker for your specific medical condition.
Be sure to take your medication with food or milk and follow the directions on the label for how often to take it. And because certain CCBs can interact with grapefruit products-reducing the ability of your liver to eliminate calcium channel blockers from your body, allowing the medication to build up-it's best to avoid eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice while on the medication.
Potential Side Effects
Some side effects of CCBs may include:
- Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
- Swelling in the feet, ankles and legs
- Tenderness or bleeding of the gums
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
It's also a good idea to avoid alcohol while you're taking calcium channel blockers because it can interfere with the drugs effectiveness and increase the likelihood of side effects. Ask your doctor about the potential side effects you can expect and be sure to tell your physician about any other prescription or over-the-counter medications you may be taking.
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