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Calcium Chloride & the Heart

By Robin Gilbert

Maintaining a balance of electrolytes is critical for the normal functioning of cells. Electrolytes are ions that circulate in your bloodstream. Your heart is a muscle that is affected by abnormal electrolyte imbalances. High levels of electrolytes like potassium or magnesium can cause cardiac arrhythmias, which doctors often stabilize with calcium chloride. Calcium chloride is an activator in the transmission of nerve impulses and contraction of cardiac muscle.


Potassium is a charged particle that affects the electrical excitability of your muscle cells. A critical aspect of potassium is its affect on cardiac rate, rhythm and contractility. High levels of potassium in your body, a condition called hyperkalemia, require immediate treatment. When levels of potassium exceed 7.0 mEq/L, you can experience abnormal heart rhythms that can deteriorate into full cardiac arrest and death. Causes of hyperkalemia include insulin deficiency and hyperglycemia, potassisum supplements and medications such as beta-blockers. The treatment for hyperkalemia is calcium chloride.


After potassium, magnesium is the most abundant ion in your body. Magnesium plays a central role in maintaining the correct electrical excitability of nerve and muscle cells, including those of your heart, and cardiac conduction. When your body has too much magnesium—a condition known as hypermagnesemia—your nervous and cardiovascular systems become depressed. A common cause of hypermagnesemia is decreased kidney functioning. When magnesium levels exceed 4 mEq/L, your heart rates slows down considerably and cardiac arrest can follow. Treatment with calcium chloride helps correct hypermagnesemia.

Calcium Chloride

Calcium chloride is essential for nervous system and muscular functioning. The role of calcium chloride is to stabilize the membrane of cells and capillaries, allowing essential fluids and electrolytes to move in and out. Doctors administer calcium chloride intravenously when they use it to treat abnormal heart rhythms caused from hyperkalemia or hypermagnesemia. When patients receive calcium chloride, monitoring of the blood pressure, pulse and heart rhythm is essential. Side effects of calcium chloride can include low blood pressure and additional abnormal cardiac rhythms.


Calcium chloride is a high-alert medication, meaning that other calcium medications have similar names. Confusion has occurred with calcium chloride and calcium gluconate. Clarifying the name and dose of medications is critical to prevent adverse outcomes. Both of these medications are calcium salts, but the dosing is different. Calcium chloride is approximately three times more potent than calcium gluconate. Calcium chloride or calcium gluconate can help stabilize the irritability of the heart cells, but because calcium chloride is the more potent form, doctors most often choose it during critical, unstable situations.

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