Calcium Channel Blockers 101

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, Circulation, Blood Pressure
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

If you have cardiovascular problems, you may already be familiar with calcium channel blockers, including Isoptin, Calan, Verelan, Norvasc, and Procardia.calcium channel blockers 101

This class of drug is often prescribed to lower heart rate, contractility, and to promote healthy blood pressure levels. They also are prescribed to limit circulatory problems and improve vascular tone through narrowed vessels. Some calcium-channel blockers are even endothelial-cell friendly—that is, they encourage smooth-muscle relaxation in the inner lining of your blood vessels, preventing spasms and helping them dilate.

Unfortunately, there are many side effects of calcium channel blockers. These include:

  • Ankle swelling
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Lung congestion
  • Nausea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea or constipation

Talk with your physician if you have any of these complaints. These drugs may also actually cause a heart attack. Plus, there’s an even higher risk of side effects and toxicity if taken with grapefruit or grapefruit juice.

Caution: Be careful when you combine calcium channel blockers with digoxin for treatment of congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation. Some of the calcium-channel blockers can increase the digoxin in your blood to dangerous levels. This can cause nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, or “heart block,” a serious condition whereby your heart rate can slow dangerously. Again, check with your physician.

Alternatives to Calcium Channel Blockers

You may be able to reduce your reliance on these medications by taking magnesium (400–800 mg), potassium (500–1,000 mg), and calcium (500–1,000 mg). Do not take these minerals if you have kidney problems.

But don't simply reduce or stop taking this or any drug without your doctor’s consent and guidance. If you cannot tolerate calcium channel blockers and these natural therapies need some time to ramp up their effectiveness, ask your doctor about beta blockers. And, as always, I encourage my patients to stick to a smart cardiovascular nutrition plan and to find natural ways to lower blood pressure and other heart risk factors so that they limit their chances of ever having to take a calcium channel blocker.
 

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