Like other CCBs, nifedipine works by blocking the flow of calcium into the muscle cells surrounding the arteries that supply blood to the heart (coronary arteries) as well as other arteries of the body. Since the inflow of calcium is what causes the muscle cells to contract, blocking the entry of calcium relaxes the muscles and dilates (widens) the arteries. By dilating coronary arteries, nifedipine increases the flow of blood to the heart. This treats and prevents angina which occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is not adequate to supply the heart with enough oxygen necessary to pump blood. Relaxing the muscles surrounding other arteries of the body lowers blood pressure and thereby reduces the pressure against which the heart must pump blood and function. This reduces the demand of the heart for oxygen--another mechanism by which CCBs treat and prevent angina. In addition, nifedipine slows conduction of the electrical current that travels through the heart that causes the muscle of the heart to contract. This effect can be used to correct abnormally rapid heartbeats.
The FDA approved nifedipine in December 1981.
PRESCRIBED FOR: Nifedipine is used for the treatment and prevention of angina resulting from either an increased workload on the heart (as with exercise) or spasm of the coronary arteries. It is used in the treatment of high blood pressure, to treat abnormally fast heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation, and in the prevention of episodes of rapid heart rhythm originating from the atria of the heart.
It also is used to dilate blood vessels that go into spasm such as those causing Raynaud's phenomenon, a painful condition of the hands caused by spasm of the arteries supplying blood to the hands.
Non-FDA approved uses include:
- anal fissures (applied to the fissures),
- prevention of migraine headaches in adults,
- ureteral stones (as secondary therapy) and
- wound healing (applied to the skin).
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