Calcium channel blockers block the small pores in cells that allow calcium to move in and out and widen blood vessels. It's not clear exactly how the drugs work, but they are used to lower blood pressure, improve irregular heartbeats, and treat migraines. They may also help stabilize moods.
People with bipolar disorder often have cycles of elevated and depressed mood that fit the description of "manic depression." When a person's illness follows this classic pattern, diagnosing bipolar disorder is relatively easy.
But bipolar disorder can be sneaky. Symptoms can defy the expected manic-depressive sequence. Infrequent episodes of mild mania or hypomania can go undetected. Depression can overshadow other aspects of the illness. And substance abuse can cloud the picture.
Sometimes, a headache can develop after taking certain calcium channel blockers. These headaches should gradually disappear once you have been taking the medication for a while. Talk to your doctor if headaches continue. Some people also report tenderness, swelling, or bleeding of the gums when starting to take calcium channel blockers. Regular brushing, flossing, and gum massages along with routine dental visits can help lessen this effect. As with any medication, it is important to see your doctor regularly to make sure the drug is working properly.
Calcium channel blockers tend to cause fewer serious side effects than some other drugs used to treat bipolar disorder. However, they are not as well studied and may not be effective.
Common calcium channel blocker side effects include:
WebMD Medical Reference: "Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depressive Disorder)."
WebMD Assess Plus: Bipolar Disorder Assessment.
National Institute for Mental Health: "Step-BD Womens Studies."
Massachusetts General Hospital Bipolar Clinic & Research Program.
MedicineNet.com: "Bipolar Disorder (Mania)."
WebMD Medical Reference: "Effects of Untreated Depression."
American Psychiatric Association: "Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients With Bipolar Disorder."
Joseph Goldberg, MD on October 27, 2014