According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, elevated blood pressure affects 74.5 million people in the United States per year. Untreated elevated blood pressure produces heart disease and stroke. Heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. The terms beta blockers and calcium channel blockers refer to different classifications of anti-hypertensive or blood pressure medications. Each classification lowers blood pressure medication by different mechanisms in the body.
Beta Blocker Medication Action
Beta blocker medications reduce blood pressure by exerting an action on the heart. Beta blockers decreases heart rate and alter the heart pumping mechanism. The alteration in the heart pumping action produces a decline in cardiac output to lower blood pressure. The beta blocker action occurs through the beta receptors in the nervous system that innervates the muscles in the heart. "Basic and Clinical Pharmacology" indicates that a newer beta blocker, nebivolol, is unlike other beta blockers as it relaxes the arteries in the body.
Common Beta Blocker Medications
Metoprolol or Toprol-XL and atenolol or Tenormin represent the most commonly used beta blocker medication. "Goodman and Gilman's The Pharmacologic Basis of Therapeutics" report that beta blocker drugs may cause the breathing tubes to narrow, and the medication in individuals with asthma or respiratory diseases requires approval by a medical doctor.
Calcium Channel Blocking Medication Action
Calcium channel blockers produce relaxation or dilation of the muscles in the arteries of the heart and the body, according to "Hurst's The Heart." The action occurs in the calcium channels that produce electrical stimulation of the muscles in the blood vessels. In addition to the effect on the arteries of the body, calcium channel blockers exert an effect on the heart muscle to reduce the contraction of the heart and electrical conduction.
Common Calcium Channel Blocking Medication
Calcium channel blocker drugs represent a newer classification of blood pressure medications and this category consists of verapamil or Calan, diltiazem or Cardizem and amlodipine or Norvasc. Headache occurs as a side effect in some individuals using calcium channel blockers due to relaxation and opening of the blood vessels to the brain.
Main Differences of Beta Blocker vs. Calcium Channel Blocking Medications
The major differences between beta blocker and calcium channel medications exist in the mechanism of action in the nervous system with the beta blockers acting on beta receptors and calcium channel blockers performing their function on the calcium channels. Some overlap occurs with the action on the heart for both types of drugs. The side effects differ due to the main mechanism of action in the nervous system. The decision to use each drug depends on the physician assessment of the patient's underlying conditions.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: May is High Blood Pressure Month
- “Basic and Clinical Pharmacology”; Beta-Adrenoceptor-Blocking Agents; B. Katzung, M.D. et al; 2009
- “Goodman and Gilman’s The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics”; Laurence Brunton, Ph.D.; 2006
- “Hurst’s The Heart”; Systemic Arterial Hypertension; Fuster, V. et al.; 2008