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Calcium channel blockers are a class of drugs that are used to treat hypertension and heart problems such as coronary artery disease.

Calcium channel blockers are an efficient treatment for people who have elevated blood pressure and coronary artery disease. What these drugs actually do is to prevent calcium from reaching the blood vessel walls and the cells of the heart. 

What are calcium channel blockers?

People who have coronary artery disease do so as a result of their coronary arteries becoming narrow and stiff. This happens when fatty deposits get stuck to the inner lining of the artery walls, creating a narrower path for the blood to follow. As the blood supply to the heart is limited, the heart starts working harder in order to bring in the oxygen it requires, causing the heart to weaken its muscles the more often this happens. This is where medications such as calcium channel blockers step in. 

Calcium channel blockers force the arteries to dilate, lowering the pressure that blood exerts on the artery walls as it tries to pass through. Because of this dilation, it’s also easier for the blood to reach your heart, meaning that it doesn’t have to put in the extra effort to pump blood.

While useful in treating coronary artery disease and lowering blood pressure, calcium channel blockers are good for a variety of different heart conditions, including arrhythmia, diastolic heart failure, coronary spasms, chest pain (angina), hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and coronary spasms.

How to take calcium channel blockers

Calcium channel blockers are recommended to be taken with food, but drinking a glass of milk is also OK if you’re not hungry. While every medicine package comes with instructions, it’s best if you follow the doctor’s orders.

Your daily dose of calcium channel blockers varies depending on your medical condition. Your doctor knows your individual case and condition, and will, as such, be able to tell you when and how much of this drug you should take daily, as well as how much time you have to wait between doses. 

Calcium channel blockers: What side effects can arise?

When you start treatment with a powerful medicine such as a calcium channel blocker, the body needs time to adjust to having it in the bloodstream. Side effects are natural, but they are generally mild and go away with time.

The most common side effects of calcium channel blockers include low blood pressure and a slow heart rate, dizziness and light-headedness, an increased appetite, a decrease in sex drive, constipation, and drowsiness.

However, some of the side effects that require immediate medical attention are a noticeable weight gain, the sense of fainting, hives or skin rashes, and difficulty in breathing (including persistent strong coughing). 

Calcium channel blockers: Food, drink, and drug interactions

While grapefruit juice is rich in vitamin C and generally has a positive impact on the immune system, it’s also rich in furanocoumarin, a chemical compound found in certain plants. This chemical compound binds to the enzyme known as CYP3A4, which is found in your intestinal tract.

As this happens, the aforementioned enzyme makes it difficult for your body to absorb just the right amount of medication. When grapefruit juice binds to the enzyme, it makes it easier for calcium channel blockers (and other classes of drugs) to get into your bloodstream, because they are not properly absorbed.

When this occurs, your blood levels rise more than it normally would when taking such medication, and these levels can be too dangerous. To be more specific, a single glass of grapefruit juice causes the CYP3A4 to be 47 percent less efficient, and the impact can last as long as a full day. 

Calcium channel blockers also interact with drugs such as diltiazem or verapamil, because these medications make it hard for the liver to eliminate different types of medicine. As this occurs, the body is more likely to end up intoxicated by drugs such as lovastatin, atorvastatin, simvastatin, or carbamazepine

It is also important to avoid drinking alcohol while taking calcium channel blockers, because when doing so, side effects are more likely to strike, and at a greater intensity. 

Safety of calcium channel blockers

While many drugs aren’t recommended for pregnant women, calcium channel blockers are an exception to the rule. Some doctors may prescribe them to expecting mothers for conditions such as preeclampsia or high blood pressure. 

Breastfeeding mothers will most likely transmit the drug to their children through their milk, but there is no medical evidence that this could be harmful to the baby. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the implication of taking calcium channel blockers when breastfeeding. 

On the other hand, there is a lack of scientific and medical evidence to establish if calcium channel blockers have an impact on children. Even so, the decision of giving children calcium channels blockers is one to be taken after a medical consultation. 

Older people are generally more sensitive to medication, so the doctor will most likely recommend lower doses of this drug for elders. 

Conclusion

Calcium channel blockers are a class of drugs that are used to treat hypertension and heart problems such as coronary artery disease. Their most important role is to dilate the blood vessels, which has two positive impacts on the body.

When blood vessels are dilated, the blood pressure that’s exerted on the inner lining of the artery walls is lower, preventing further artery muscle damage. Secondly, because the heart doesn’t have to force itself to pump blood and oxygen with extra effort, the risk of complications goes down. 

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