Blood-Pressure Medication May Lead to Increased Risk of Heart Attack

Researchers at the University of Leeds in England have determined that a certain class of drugs used to treat high blood pressure may in fact increase the risk factor for heart attacks and lead to an increased need for cardiac pacemakers.

These medications, known as calcium channel blockers (CCBs), work to reduce the force of heart contractions, widen arteries, and limit electrical activity in the heart. However, by blocking calcium channels, the drugs may lead to other significant health problems.

“Many people suffer from an irregular heartbeat as they grow older and large numbers have pacemakers fitted,” noted Dr. Matthew K. Lancaster, one of the study’s lead scientists. “Making the link between these heart problems and the failure of the calcium channels as we age has flagged up a warning sign that some common medical treatments may be making the condition worse. Clinicians should think carefully before prescribing calcium channel blockers and ensure that, in treating one heart condition, they aren’t exacerbating others.”

Because the influx of calcium is important for the heart’s electrical stimulation and for strengthening the heart muscle’s cells, CCBs may lead to irregular heartbeat and may cause blood pressure to fall dangerously low. Researchers noted that as individuals get older, their calcium channels become less effective. These findings led the study’s authors to conclude that patients with artificially blocked calcium channels (ie. patients who are treated for high blood pressure) may be susceptible to the same risks of heart attacks or the need for a pacemaker.

The research appeared in last week’s issue of Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.

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