What Is a Calcium Channel Blocker Overdose?

S. Berger
S. Berger

Calcium channel blockers are a class of drugs that are often used to treat disorders like epilepsy and hypertension. As with most other drugs, taking more than the necessary dosage can lead to adverse consequences. A calcium channel blocker overdose can be fatal, which is why individuals using these medications often limit doses and learn about the effects of an overdose. This knowledge can help people recognize whether one has occurred, and how to manage this event if it does occur.

Often, an overdose can be characterized by the therapeutic effects of medications being taken to an extreme. These drugs, for example, can lower blood pressure, but a calcium channel blocker overdose may cause this pressure to drop to a dangerous level. Organs like the heart and brain may not be able to receive sufficient oxygen, and death can result if this problem persists for some time.

During a calcium channel blocker overdose, cells are often unable to take up calcium into their bodies properly. Calcium absorption normally plays a vital role in the body, as it assists with the transmission of messages between cells. Disrupting these transmissions in the heart may cause it to beat erratically, leading to a condition known as arrhythmia. At higher doses of these medications, shock or even cardiac arrest can result.

Another characteristic of a calcium channel blocker overdose is known as hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia is the term for abnormally high levels of blood sugar, and it can be induced by these medications. In large amounts, calcium channel blockers can prevent cells in the pancreas from converting sugar into insulin. Usually, calcium is required to activate pancreatic cells that make insulin; without it, this condition can occur. Depending on the level of overdose, symptoms can be as mild as excessive hunger and thirst, or as serious as coma.

Often, professional medical attention is required in the event of a calcium channel blocker overdose. This management can involve the use of activated charcoal to absorb some of the drugs still present in the stomach. Reversing the effects of overdose is also important during such cases, and, depending on the symptoms, can require administering other medications to raise an individual's blood pressure and heart rate. Sometimes, a breathing tube will be used if the individual has lost consciousness, or if there are concerns about breathing. Generally, these types of overdoses are treatable, but a rapid response can greatly increase the chances of survival.

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