Calcium antagonists

Ehud Grossman, Franz H. Messerli*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Calcium antagonists were introduced for the treatment of hypertension in the 1980s. Their use was subsequently expanded to additional disorders, such as angina pectoris, paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardias, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, Raynaud phenomenon, pulmonary hypertension, diffuse esophageal spasms, and migraine. Calcium antagonists as a group are heterogeneous and include 3 main classes - phenylalkylamines, benzothiazepines, and dihydropyridines - that differ in their molecular structure, sites and modes of action, and effects on various other cardiovascular functions. Calcium antagonists lower blood pressure mainly through vasodilation and reduction of peripheral resistance. They maintain blood flow to vital organs, and are safe in patients with renal impairment. Unlike diuretics and β-blockers, calcium antagonists do not impair glucose metabolism or lipid profile and may even attenuate the development of arteriosclerotic lesions. In long-term follow-up, patients treated with calcium antagonists had development of less overt diabetes mellitus than those who were treated with diuretics and β-blockers. Moreover, calcium antagonists are able to reduce left ventricular mass and are effective in improving anginal pain. Recent prospective randomized studies attested to the beneficial effects of calcium antagonists in hypertensive patients. In comparison with placebo, calcium antagonist - based therapy reduced major cardiovascular events and cardiovascular death significantly in elderly hypertensive patients and in diabetic patients. In several comparative studies in hypertensive patients, treatment with calcium antagonists was equally effective as treatment with diuretics, β-blockers, or angiotensin- converting enzyme inhibitors. From these studies, it seems that a calcium antagonist - based regimen is superior to other regimens in preventing stroke, equivalent in preventing ischemic heart disease, and inferior in preventing congestive heart failure. Calcium antagonists are also safe and effective as first-line or add-on therapy in diabetic hypertensive patients. Heart rate - lowering calcium antagonists (verapamil, diltiazem) may have an edge over the dihydropyridines in post - myocardial infarction patients and in diabetic nephropathy. Thus, calcium antagonists may be safely used in the management of hypertension and angina pectoris.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-57
Number of pages24
JournalProgress in Cardiovascular Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2004


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