Management of calcium channel antagonist overdose

Drug Saf. 2003;26(2):65-79. doi: 10.2165/00002018-200326020-00001.


Calcium channel antagonists are used primarily for the treatment of hypertension and tachyarrhythmias. Overdose of calcium channel antagonists can be lethal. Calcium channel antagonists act at the L-type calcium channels primarily in cardiac and vascular smooth muscle preventing calcium influx into cells with resultant decreases in vascular tone and cardiac inotropy and chronotropy. The L-type calcium channel is a complex structure and is thus affected by a large number of structurally diverse antagonists. In the setting of overdose, patients may experience vasodilatation and bradycardia leading to a shock state. Patients may also be hyperglycaemic and acidotic due to the blockade of L-type calcium channels in the pancreatic islet cells that affect insulin secretion. Aggressive therapy is warranted in the setting of toxicity. Gut decontamination with charcoal, or whole bowel irrigation or multiple-dose charcoal in the setting of extended-release products is indicated. Specific antidotes include calcium salts, glucagon and insulin. Calcium salts may be given in bolus doses or may be employed as a continuous infusion. Care should be exercised to avoid the administration of calcium in the setting of concomitant digoxin toxicity. Insulin administration has been used effectively to increase cardiac inotropy and survival. The likely mechanism involves a shift to carbohydrate metabolism in the setting of decreased availability of carbohydrates due to decreased insulin secretion secondary to blockade of calcium channels in pancreatic islet cells. Glucose should be administered as well to maintain euglycaemia. Supportive care including the use of phosphodiesterase inhibitors, adrenergic agents, cardiac pacing, balloon pump or extracorporeal bypass is frequently indicated if antidotal therapy is not effective. Careful evaluation of asymptomatic patients, including and electrocardiogram and a period of observation, is indicated. Patients ingesting a nonsustained-release product should be observed in a monitored setting for 12 hours, while those who ingest a sustained-release preparation should be observed for no less than 24 hours. Charcoal should be given to the asymptomatic patient with a history of calcium channel antagonist overdose.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Antidotes / therapeutic use
  • Calcium Channel Blockers / pharmacokinetics
  • Calcium Channel Blockers / poisoning*
  • Calcium Channels / chemistry
  • Calcium Channels / physiology
  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug Overdose / therapy
  • Humans


  • Antidotes
  • Calcium Channel Blockers
  • Calcium Channels