Calcium channel blockers are prescribed for high blood pressure and heart problems, but be careful when using one with diuretics, ACE inhibitors, or other drugs.
Calcium channel blockers are a class of drugs prescribed for high blood pressure and other heart diseases.
The medications reduce blood pressure by helping blood vessels to relax.
Calcium channel blockers reduce the speed at which calcium moves into heart muscle, blood vessels, and cells in the heart that control your heart rate.
The drugs increase the diameter of blood vessels, reduce the force of contraction of the heart, and slow heart rate, all of which helps keep your heart from having to work as hard.
In addition to high blood pressure (hypertension), calcium channel blockers are prescribed to treat:
- Angina (chest pain)
- Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
These medications typically aren't prescribed for people who have congestive heart failure or structural heart problems.
Examples of Calcium Channel Blockers
There are many different generic and brand-name forms of calcium channel blockers available, including:
- Diltiazem (Cardizem, Cartia, Dilacor XR, Diltia XT, Tiamate)
- Verapamil (Calan, Covera-HS, Isoptin, Verelan)
- Nifedipine (Adalat, Procardia, Procardia XL)
- Nicardipine (Cardene)
- Nimopidine (Nimotop)
- Amlodipine (Norvasc, Lotrel)
- Nisoldipine (Sular)
- Isradipine (DynaCirc)
- Bepridil (Vascor)
- Felodipine (Plendil)
Typical Calcium Channel Blocker Interactions
Calcium channel blockers may interact with other medications, so always tell your doctor about every medication, recreational drug, vitamin, and supplement — whether over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription — that you are taking.
Calcium channel blockers should always be taken with a meal or a glass of milk to protect the stomach.
You should not, however, take calcium channel blockers with grapefruit juice or grapefruit.
Grapefruit (and its juice) can alter the effects of many drugs, including calcium channel blockers.
Some of the drugs that are likely to interact with calcium channel blockers include:
- Other high blood pressure medications, including ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors or beta blockers
- Diuretics (water pills)
- Some eye medications
- Large amounts of vitamin D or calcium supplements
- Drugs used to treat arrhythmia
- Digitalis, also called digitoxin (Digoxin)
- Drugs that contain cortisone, or any corticosteroids
Remember to take calcium channel blockers exactly as your doctor or pharmacist recommends.
This means not crushing, chopping, or dissolving these medications unless you're told it's okay — especially if you're taking a medication that ends in XL or XR, which means extended release.
Cutting pills will negate that effect, and possibly cause adverse effects.
Calcium Channel Blocker Side Effects
It's also important to avoid drinking alcohol when taking calcium channel blockers.
Alcohol, combined with a calcium channel blocker, can cause severe side effects and may also affect the way the medication works.
Side effects from taking calcium channel blockers are usually fairly mild, but may include:
- Weight gain
- Swelling in the lower legs, feet, or ankles
- Feeling dizzy
- An increase in appetite
- Feeling tired or drowsy
- A heartbeat that feels rapid, slow, or irregular
- Coughing, wheezing, or problems with breathing or swallowing
- Nausea or stomach discomfort
- Numbness or a tingling sensation in the feet or hands
Calcium channel blockers are generally safe, but like any medication, need to be taken properly and with care.
To lessen the chance of interactions, always tell your doctor about other medications you’re taking.
And remember that you don't have to deal with side effects: Talk to your doctor about them.
Chances are that a slight adjustment in the dosage or the way you take your medication will help you feel better while allowing you to get the treatment you need.