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Calcium channel blockers are a type of prescription medication used primarily for heart disease. In this lesson, we will learn what specific diseases they are used for and their mechanism of action.

Calcium Channel Blockers

There are numerous medications on the market and new ones being approved by the FDA all of the time. Pharmacology resources list medications by class. One class of medications are the calcium channel blockers, which is what we will learn about in this lesson.

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One way to help you know what medications are classified as calcium channel blockers is by looking at the generic name of the medication. Many of the names of these medications end in ‘-dipine’ which may help you identify what category they are in. But this isn’t foolproof as not all calcium channel blocker medications fit this rule.Examples of medications that are calcium channel blockers include amlodipine, felodipine, nicardipine, and nifedipine. These are prescription medications that must be prescribed by a healthcare provider. Let’s look at what these medications are used for.

Uses

Calcium channel blockers are medications that are used for different cardiovascular issues. If you have hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, that you haven’t been able to control through diet and exercise, your doctor may prescribe a calcium channel blocker to help lower your blood pressure.Coronary artery disease is when you have narrowed arteries that supply blood to your heart. This occurs due to plaque buildup and limits the blood flow to your heart. Calcium channel blockers are also used for this condition.

Calcium channel blockers are also prescribed for angina or chest pain. Chest pain is the result of inadequate blood supply to the heart muscle. They can also be used for other altered circulation conditions. As you see, these are all heart-related issues that calcium channel blockers are used for, but there is another use that isn’t heart-related.

If you are pregnant and go into premature labor, you may be given a calcium channel blocker to stop the contractions in an effort to stop labor.Now we know what calcium channel blockers are used for, let’s look at how they work. This will help you understand why they are used for these conditions.

Mechanism of Action

We have muscles throughout out body that contract and relax to do whatever they may need to do. Have you ever thought about how the muscle actually does this, though? It is a very complicated cellular process. We will review it in a very simplified manner focusing on the use of calcium, since that is the focus of this lesson.

The nerve cells send a message that we want a muscle cell to contract. Calcium is required for a muscle cell to contract. There are tiny calcium channels that open up and allow calcium into the muscle to make it contract. After the contraction is complete, the tiny calcium channels close, the calcium is pumped out, and the muscle relaxes.We learned that calcium channel blockers are used for hypertension.

When blood vessels contract, this narrows the vessel, which increases blood pressure. Taking calcium channel blockers will block calcium from entering the cells of the blood vessel which keeps the smooth muscles cells in the blood vessel relaxed and decreases blood pressure. This same concept of relaxing the blood vessels makes calcium channel blockers an effective medicine for coronary artery disease and angina.

By relaxing and widening the blood vessels, there is improved blood flow to the heart muscle.Understanding that calcium is required for muscle contractions should help you understand why calcium channel blockers are used to stop preterm labor as well.

Lesson Summary

Calcium channel blockers are a class of prescription medications that include nifedipine and amlodipine as well as other medications. These medications are used to treat cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, and angina. They are also used to treat preterm labor.

Calcium channel blockers stop calcium entry into muscle cells allowing muscles to relax. The muscles in blood vessels relax and widen when taking these drugs which results in decreased blood pressure. This same mechanism allows increased blood flow to the heart muscle in coronary artery disease and angina.

Calcium channel blockers are also effective in relaxing uterine muscles thus stopping preterm labor.

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