Clinical pharmacokinetics of verapamil, nifedipine and diltiazem

Clin Pharmacokinet. 1986 Nov-Dec;11(6):425-49. doi: 10.2165/00003088-198611060-00002.


The calcium antagonists diltiazem, nifedipine and verapamil are widely used in the treatment of coronary heart disease, arterial hypertension, certain supraventricular tachyarrhythmias and obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. During recent years their pharmacokinetic properties and metabolism have been studied in more detail. Although these 3 calcium antagonists exhibit great diversity in chemical structure, they exhibit common pharmacokinetic properties. These drugs are extensively metabolised and only traces of unchanged drugs are eliminated in urine. Their systemic plasma clearances are high and dependent on liver blood flow. Therefore, their bioavailabilities (diltiazem 40 to 50%; nifedipine 40 to 50%; verapamil 10 to 30%) are low despite almost complete absorption following oral administration. During long term treatment, oral clearance decreases and bioavailability increases due to saturation of hepatic first-pass metabolism. Pronounced intra- and inter-individual variations in clearance and bioavailability are observed. In patients with liver cirrhosis the various pharmacokinetic parameters are grossly altered. Clearance decreases, elimination half-life is substantially prolonged, and bioavailability more than doubles. In addition, the volume of distribution increases. Whereas renal disease has no impact on the pharmacokinetics of diltiazem and verapamil, elimination half-life of nifedipine increases in relation to the degree of renal impairment due to an increase in volume of distribution. Systemic clearance, however, remains unchanged. The data so far available indicate that the plasma concentrations of these drugs correlate with both their electrophysiological and haemodynamic effects. However, no effective therapeutic plasma concentration range has been firmly established. As reliable clinical end-points are available for dose titration of calcium antagonists, it is doubtful whether therapeutic drug monitoring will be of great value. Calcium antagonists are often administered in combination with a variety of other drugs. Thus, the potential for both pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic drug interaction exists. The interaction between digoxin and these drugs is of clinical importance. Verapamil and diltiazem cause a significant increase in plasma digoxin concentrations. In contrast, nifedipine does not lead to a significant increase in the plasma digoxin concentration. The mechanism responsible for this interaction is inhibition of both renal and non-renal digoxin clearance.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biological Availability
  • Diltiazem / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Nifedipine / metabolism*
  • Verapamil / metabolism*


  • Verapamil
  • Diltiazem
  • Nifedipine