Calcium Channel Blockers for Bipolar Disorder

Calcium channel blockers are typically used to treat high blood pressure or heart problems. Some have also been studied experimentally to treat mania or depression in bipolar disorder. Thus far, there is still uncertainty about whether or not they are effective for treating bipolar disorder.

Calcium channel blockers block the small pores in cells (called L-type calcium channels) that allow calcium to move in and out, and widen blood vessels as well as affect the activity of nerve cells. It's not clear exactly how these drugs might affect mood, but research suggests that at least in some people with bipolar disorder, the way the brain uses calcium to regulate various functions within nerve cells may not work properly. The use of calcium channel blockers to treat bipolar disorder outside of research studies is experimental.

Calcium channel blockers that have been studied to treat bipolar disorder include:

  • Diltiazem
  • Isradipine
  • Nimodipine
  • Verapamil

Side Effects of Calcium Channel Blockers

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Calcium channel blockers can lower blood pressure, so it is important that blood pressure is monitored during treatment. Low blood pressure can cause dizziness and light-headedness. 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 many of the drugs that are traditionally used to treat bipolar disorder. However, it is important to remember that they are not as well studied as traditional medicines for bipolar and their effectiveness has not been well-established.

Common calcium channel blocker side effects include:

  • Slowed heart rate or irregular heart rhythm
  • Flushing, a pounding sensation in the head, dizziness, headache
  • Leg swelling
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Tingling sensations in the arms or legs
  • Weakness
  • Constipation

Talk to your doctor if you are pregnant or could become pregnant during treatment. It isn't known if these drugs could harm the fetus.

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