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Fact Checked

What Is Amlodipine?

Nearly half of American adults (108 million people, or 45 percent of the adult population) is currently struggling with hypertension, or high blood pressure. Common advice from doctors includes making serious lifestyle changes, like eating right and exercising more. While lifestyle changes are important and can reduce or eliminate high blood pressure for many people, others may require treatment with a blood pressure medication like an ACE inhibitor or beta-blocker in addition to lifestyle changes in order to bring their blood pressure under control.  High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because it is the most common cause of cardiovascular disease-related deaths and heart failure in the United States, but many people have no symptoms and are unaware that they have high blood pressure until it is too late. If your doctor has recommended taking an antihypertensive medication in conjunction with living a healthy lifestyle to control your high blood pressure, here’s what you need to know about the medication.

What Is Amlodipine?

Amlodipine, manufactured under the brand names Norvasc and Katerzia, belongs to a class of medications called calcium channel blockers. Amlodipine was patented in 1982 and was first approved for medical use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1990. Amlodipine is sold under the brand names listed above and is also sold as a generic drug in the United States. 

What Is Amlodipine Used to Treat?

Amlodipine is primarily used to treat chest pain (angina) and other conditions caused by coronary artery disease, otherwise known as heart disease, and it is also used to treat blood pressure. Amlodipine is sometimes taken in combination with other medications. By reducing pain associated with angina, amlodipine reduces the risk of hospitalization and surgeries caused by chest pain. When treating high blood pressure, amlodipine reduces the risk associated with heart attack or stroke caused by high blood pressure.

Angina

Angina is pain, pressure, or tightness that may be caused by stress or physical activity, such as walking or exercising, and it is usually felt in the chest. People who suffer from angina usually experience decreased blood flow and oxygen to the heart, which is often caused by atherosclerosis. If not treated properly, angina can increase the risk of heart attack and become life-threatening. Angina is sometimes experienced as pressure, tightness, or pain felt in other places than the chest, such as the neck, jaw, shoulder, back, or either arm. Some people may experience shortness of breath, heart palpitations, sweating, nausea, or lightheadedness, and symptoms may feel similar to heartburn.

High Blood Pressure

All people experience the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of the blood vessels as the heart beats; this force is how blood is sent to different areas of the body. However, hypertension, or high blood pressure, occurs when your blood consistently pushes against the walls of your blood vessels too forcefully for an extended period of time. The condition is dangerous but it causes an increased workload for the heart and blood vessels, which causes them to work less efficiently over time and requires more effort to provide the tissues and organs with the blood they need to function. If not controlled or treated with lifestyle changes or medication, hypertension can cause a narrowing of the blood vessels by creating microtears in the walls of the arteries. This narrowing further prevents the blood from reaching the different areas of the body and causes the blood pressure to rise even more. The majority of high blood pressure cases have no obvious causes, such as medications or medical conditions, and are primarily influenced by lifestyle factors and genetics.  

How Does Amlodipine Work?

Like other medications in its class, amlodipine works by blocking calcium from entering the heart and arteries. Our bodies use calcium to cause the heart and arteries to contract more strongly, but for people with high blood pressure or angina, this makes the problem worse. Calcium channel blockers are effective at lowering blood pressure because when calcium is blocked from entering the heart and arteries, the blood vessels are able to relax and open. As a byproduct, some calcium channel blockers, including amlodipine, also cause the heart rate to slow down, which further lowers blood pressure, can help control an irregular heartbeat, and helps relieve pain associated with angina.

What Are the Benefits of Amlodipine?

Amlodipine has been around since the 1990s and has developed a reputation as a reliable, effective drug for treating high blood pressure and angina. Use of amlodipine has several benefits:

  • Amlodipine can be used to treat high blood pressure in children as young as six.
  • The medication is effective at reducing the signs and symptoms of angina and high blood pressure.
  • Amlodipine can be taken with other heart medications in patients who have multiple heart issues to address.
  • The medication can be cut or crushed to make taking it easier for patients who have difficulty swallowing pills.
  • Amlodipine is available in a generic form and is highly affordable and accessible for most patients.

Are There Any Risks Associated With Amlodipine?

Although there are many benefits associated with amlodipine, as listed above, taking the medication also poses some risks. Risks associated with amlodipine include:

  • Patients with liver problems may see amlodipine build up in their systems, which can cause an increased risk of experiencing side effects. According to drug information, patients with severe liver problems may need to take a lower dosage of the medication.
  • Patients with heart problems may experience lower blood pressure, increased chest pain, or a heart attack after starting or increasing their dose of amlodipine.

What Dose of Amlodipine Do I Take?

The recommended dosage for amlodipine will depend on the condition being treated, the age of the patient, and several other factors. To treat hypertension in adults, doctors will typically start patients out on a dose of 5 mg taken once per day through oral administration. If the patient does not have their blood pressure under control within 7 to 14 days of starting treatment, the doctor may increase their dose. The maximum dosage for amlodipine when treating hypertension is 10 mg taken once per day. Children between the ages of 6 and 17 and seniors over the age of 65 will take 2.5 mg by mouth once per day for hypertension. While children can bump up to a 5 mg dose if needed to control high blood pressure, seniors process drugs more slowly and should use a lower dosage if possible. 
The typical starting dose for the treatment of angina in adults is 5 mg of amlodipine taken once per day, with a maximum dosage of 10 mg per day. Amlodipine is not authorized for the treatment of angina in children. Senior citizens over the age of 65 should take 5 mg by mouth once per day for the treatment of angina.
Overall, be sure to follow the medical advice of your doctor including informing them about any missed doses and storing the medication at room temperature. 

What Are the Possible Side Effects of Amlodipine?

Side effects associated with amlodipine are categorized as either common or serious. Common side effects associated with amlodipine that usually do not need medical attention include:

  • Swelling of the legs or ankles
  • Stomach pain
  • Dizziness
  • Hot or warm feeling in the face/flushing
  • Very fast heart rate (arrhythmia)
  • Abnormal muscle movements
  • Tiredness or extreme sleepiness
  • Nausea
  • Irregular heart rate (arrhythmia)
  • Tremors

As long as these common side effects are mild, they should go away within a few days or weeks. If side effects persist or an allergic reaction occurs, talk to your doctor. This is not a complete list of side effects.
Some side effects of amlodipine do require medical attention. Check with your health care provider immediately if you experience any of the following serious side effects while taking amlodipine:

  • Low blood pressure, including:
  • Severe dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Increased chest pain or a heart attack. This side effect can occur when you first begin taking amlodipine or increase your dosage. Symptoms may include:
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Upper body discomfort
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Nausea

Is Amlodipine Safe for Women Who Are Pregnant or Breastfeeding?

Limited research has been done on the safety of amlodipine for pregnant women. It is recommended that the medication be used during pregnancy only when clearly needed and when the benefits outweigh the risks to the unborn baby. If you are pregnant, speak with your doctor about taking amlodipine during pregnancy.
Not enough clinical trials have been done about the effects of Amlodipine on nursing infants to determine conclusively if the medication is safe for use by breastfeeding mothers as it may pass through breast milk. Thus far, studies indicate that use of amlodipine while breastfeeding has not caused adverse effects in breastfed infants. Nursing mothers should speak to their doctors regarding the use of amlodipine while breastfeeding.

Who Should Not Take Amlodipine?

If you are allergic to amlodipine or other calcium channel blockers,  including nisoldipine or nifedipine, you should not take amlodipine. It’s important to make your doctor aware of your complete medical history and any prescription drugs or over-the-counter drugs that you currently take, particularly if you have a history of any of the following:

  • Aortic stenosis, a structural heart problem
  • Very low blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Kidney problems, kidney disease, liver problems or liver disease

Taking amlodipine can make you feel dizzy. The use of alcohol or marijuana can increase these feelings because of drug interactions. You should not drive or do anything that requires alertness until you know how amlodipine affects you. 

Published May 6th, 2020 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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