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Calcium channel blockers are medicines that slow the movement of calcium into the cells of the heart and blood vessels. This, in turn, relaxes blood vessels, increases the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, and reduces the heart's workload.
Calcium channel blockers are used to treat high blood pressure, to correct abnormal heart rhythms, and to relieve the type of chest pain called angina pectoris. Physicians also prescribe calcium channel blockers to treat panic attacks and bipolar disorder (manic depressive illness) and to prevent migraine headache.
Seeing a physician regularly while taking calcium channel blockers is important. The physician will check to make certain the medicine is working as it should and will watch for unwanted side effects. People who have high blood pressure often feel perfectly fine. However, they should continue to see their prescribing physician even when they feel well so that he can keep a close watch on their condition. They should also continue to take their medicine even when they feel fine.
Calcium channel blockers will not cure high blood pressure, but will help to control the condition. To avoid the serious health problems associated with high blood pressure, patients may have to take this type of medication for the rest of their lives. Furthermore, the blockers alone may not be enough. People with high blood pressure may also need to avoid certain foods and keep their weight under control. The health care professional who is treating the condition can offer advice as to what measures may be necessary. Patients being treated for high blood pressure should not change their diets without consulting their physicians.
Anyone taking calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure should not take any other prescription or over-the-counter medication without first checking with the prescribing physician, as some of these drugs may increase blood pressure.
Some people feel drowsy or less alert than usual when taking calcium channel blockers. Anyone who takes these drugs should not drive, use machines, or do anything else that might be dangerous until they have found out how the drugs affect them.
People who normally have chest pain when they exercise or exert themselves may not have the pain when they are taking calcium channel blockers. This could lead them to be more active than they should be. Anyone taking calcium channel blockers should therefore consult with the prescribing physician concerning how much exercise and activity may be considered safe.
Some people get headaches that last for a short time after taking a dose of this medication. This problem usually goes away during the course of treatment. If it does not, or if the headaches are severe, the prescribing physician should be informed.
Patients taking certain calcium channel blockers may need to check their pulse regularly, as the drugs may slow the pulse too much. If the pulse is too slow, circulation problems may result. The prescribing physician can show patients the correct way to check their pulse.
This type of medication may cause the gums to swell, bleed, or become tender. If this problem occurs, a medical physician or dentist should be consulted. To help prevent the problem, care should be taken when brushing and flossing the teeth. Regular dental check-ups and cleanings are also recommended.
Older people may be unusually sensitive to the effects of calcium channel blockers. This may increase the chance of side effects.
Author Info: Deanna M. Swartout-Corbeil R.N., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002
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