Use of Calcium Channel Blockers for Glaucoma
What are Calcium Channel Blockers and Why Might they be of Benefit in the Treatment of Glaucoma?
Mounting evidence suggests that factors other than intraocular pressure (IOP) contribute to the development of glaucoma. One suspected factor is blood flow to the eye. Calcium channel blockers dilate blood vessels potentially leading to increased blood flow. This class of medication has been used successfully to treat abnormal blood flow conditions such as migraine headache and Raynauds (both of which may be associated with glaucoma). Additionally, calcium channel blockers may have a neuroprotective effect. Examples of Calcium channel blockers include verapamil (Calan, Covera-HS, Verelan), nifedipine (Procardia), and diltiazem (Cardizem, Dilacor, Tiazac).
Evidence that Calcium Channel Blockers can be effective in the treatment of Glaucoma
For over two decades calcium channel blockers have been studied as a potential treatment of glaucoma. There is evidence that nifedipine (a commonly used calcium channel blocker) can stabilize visual fields in those with normal tension glaucoma and/or those with peripheral vascular disease. This potential benefit may be due to an increase in blood supply to the eye.
However, in 2001 results were published of a placebo controlled trial investigating the effect of nifedipine on both optic nerve blood flow and visual fields in patients with open angle glaucoma. No significant effect was noted in either optic nerve blood flow or visual fields in those study participants using nifedipine compared to those using placebo.
It is possible that no benefit of nifedipine was noted as the study had to be prematurely terminated. Why? Because a full third of the study participants taking nifedipine dropped out of the study due to headache, flushing, dizziness, swelling and/or low blood pressure. Sixty percent of those remaining in the nifedipine study arm experienced side-effects including headache, dizziness and nausea.
Other studies have documented similar side effects with the use of calcium channel blockers. More worrisome is the evidence that short-acting nifedipine can increase the risk of death in those who have coronary artery (heart) disease. Long-term use of calcium channel blockers may even increase the risk of certain cancers such as breast cancer.
Although in theory calcium channel blockers have the potential to benefit those with glaucoma, this benefit has not been demonstrated in humans. Additionally, this class of medications is associated with significant systemic side effects. Even in low doses these risks would likely outweigh the unproven potential benefit of calcium channel blockers to those with glaucoma.
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