, Volume 2, Issue 6, pp 415-431
Date: 20 Aug 2012

Calcium Channel Antagonists in the Treatment of Hypertension

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Calcium channel antagonists are widely used antihypertensive agents. Their popularity among primary care physicians is not only due to their blood pressure-lowering effects, but also because they appear to be effective regardless of the age or ethnic background of the patients. The first available calcium channel antagonists utilized immediate-release formulations which, although effective in patients with angina pectoris, were not approved by the US FDA for use in hypertension. When long-acting once-daily formulations were approved in this indication, the short-acting preparations — which had by then become generic and inexpensive — retained some residual unapproved use for hypertension. An observational case-controlled trial, based on such usage, noted that these agents were associated with a greater risk of myocardial infarctions than conventional agents such as diuretics and β-adrenoceptor antagonists. Further case-controlled trials showed, in fact, that the dangers of calcium channel antagonists were confined to the short-acting agents and that approved long-acting agents were at least as well tolerated and effective as other antihypertensive drugs.

Cardiovascular outcomes during treatment with calcium channel antagonists have been examined in randomized, controlled trials. Compared with placebo, the calcium channel antagonists clearly prevented strokes and other cardiovascular events and reduced mortality. The effects of these agents on survival and clinical outcomes were similar to those with other antihypertensive drugs. There is a slight tendency for the calcium channel antagonists to be more effective than other drug types in preventing stroke, but slightly less effective in preventing coronary events. These observations extend to high-risk patients with hypertension including those with diabetes mellitus. Even so, patients with evidence of nephropathy should not receive monotherapy with calcium channel antagonists. Such patients are optimally treated with angiotensin receptor antagonists or ACE inhibitors, although addition of other drugs, including calcium channel antagonists, is often required to achieve the tight blood pressure control necessary to provide adequate renal protection.

Calcium channel antagonists have a highly acceptable tolerability profile and careful reviews of available data have shown that their use is not associated with increased bleeding or promotion of tumor formation. It is now recognized that reduction of blood pressure in patients with hypertension to levels often <130/85mm Hg should be undertaken in presence of other cardiovascular risk factors or evidence of end organ damage. Because of this important concept, calcium channel antagonists, like the other antihypertensive drug classes, are progressively being prescribed less often as monotherapy, but more typically as part of combination regimens.