What is lithium?

Lithium is a medication known as a mood stabilizer that is used to prevent and treat symptoms of mania in people with bipolar disorder.

When did the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve the medication?

Lithium was first approved by the FDA to treat mania in 1970.

Is there a generic version of lithium?

Lithium, or lithium carbonate, is the generic name of the drug. It is also sold by the brand names Lithobid or Eskalith.

Are there any major differences between lithium and other medications used to treat bipolar disorder?

Lithium belongs to the class of medications known as mood stabilizers. It is taken to decrease the intensity of manic episodes or to prevent manic episodes among people with bipolar disorder. People who take lithium should check in with their doctor frequently to monitor the lithium levels in their blood.  Their doctor may also recommend that they make changes in the level of sodium in their diet and their fluid intake. Talk to your doctor about what might work best for you and the costs and benefits of taking the medication.

Article continues below

Concerned about Bipolar Disorder?

Take our 2-minute Bipolar quiz to see if you may benefit from further diagnosis and treatment.

Take Bipolar Quiz

Can children take lithium?

The medication has not been approved for use in children under the age of 12. Talk to your child’s doctor about the potential risks and benefits of using the medication.

Are there potential interaction issues for people taking lithium and any other drugs?

There are hundreds of drugs which are known to interact with lithium in major, moderate, or mild ways, so let your doctor know what medications (both prescription and nonprescription) you are taking before you begin taking the medication. Some of these include acetazolamide, aminophylline, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor antagonists, antacids, caffeine, calcium channel blockers, carbamazepine, diuretics, medications for mental illness, methyldopa, metronidazole, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), potassium iodide; selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and theophylline.

Are there any other medical conditions that would make someone ineligible for lithium therapy?

Talk to your doctor about other medical conditions before you take lithium, such as kidney disease, heart disease, organic brain syndrome, thyroid disease, and Brugada syndrome. Also, make sure to tell your doctor or dentist that you are on the medication before you receive surgery.

What is the typical dose that would be prescribed to someone taking lithium?

Dosages for the medication typically range between 900 and 1800 mg daily, depending on the severity of symptoms.

What do I do if I miss a dose?

Take the dose of lithium when you remember, but skip the missed dose if it’s almost time for your next dose. You should never take extra doses of the medication to make up for missed doses.

What side effects can lithium cause?

The side effects of lithium can include:

  • loss of appetite
  • restlessness
  • mild thirst
  • dry mouth
  • excessive saliva
  • swollen lips
  • difficulty controlling hand movements
  • weight changes
  • stomach pain
  • gas or indigestion
  • constipation
  • decrease in food taste
  • acne
  • muscle or joint pain
  • hair loss
  • depression
  • itching or rash
  • paleness

It is recommended that you wait to drive or operate machinery until you know how the medication affects you. Doctors also advise that people avoid alcohol and illegal drugs while on the medication, as they can worsen adverse effects. Report major side effects to your doctor immediately. Such side effects may include excessive thirst, unusual fatigue, blackouts, seizures, increased urination, uncontrollable or jerky movements, shortness of breath, fainting, changes in heartbeat, dizziness, tightness of chest, hallucinations, crossed eyes, confusion, headaches, discoloration or pain in fingers or toes, pounding of head, swelling of feet or legs, drowsiness, loss of coordination, diarrhea, vomiting, giddiness, slurred speech, blurred vision, or ringing in ears. You can also report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088 or online.

What are the potential long-term effects of taking Lithium?

Your doctor should monitor for progression of potential long-term side effects, which can include renal impairment.

Is it safe for a woman who is pregnant, about to become pregnant, or nursing to take lithium?

There have been no controlled human pregnancy studies on the effects of lithium, but animal studies have demonstrated some risk. The drug can be transferred via breast milk and harm a baby, so nursing while taking the medication is typically not advised. Therefore, talk to your doctor if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or are nursing before you take lithium.

Can symptoms occur if lithium is discontinued?

It’s important not to discontinue use of the drug if you feel better. Maintain contact with your doctor and seek medical attention if necessary when discontinuing the drug. There are no specific withdrawal symptoms associated with lithium discontinuation, but symptoms of bipolar disorder can reemerge.

What should I do if I overdose on lithium?

An overdose of lithium could be fatal, so seek immediate help or call the Poison Help Line at 1-800-222-1222 if you overdose. Overdose symptoms can include blurred vision, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of coordination, weak muscles, drowsiness, ringing in bears, giddiness, and increased urination.

Is lithium habit-forming?

Lithium has no habit-forming potential, but it is not recommended that you discontinue use of the drug before talking with your doctor, as withdrawal symptoms can occur.

How much does lithium cost?

According to goodrx.com, ninety 300mg capsules of generic lithium cost approximately $25.

Are there any disadvantages to Lithium?

The biggest disadvantages of lithium are potential side effects and the need for more frequent monitoring of lithium levels in the blood. Talk to your doctor about whether the medication is right for you.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained herein should NOT be used as a substitute for the advice of an appropriately qualified and licensed physician or other healthcare providers.  This article mentions drugs that were FDA-approved and available at the time of publication and may not include all possible drug interactions or all FDA warnings or alerts. The author of this page explicitly does not endorse this drug or any specific treatment method. If you have health questions or concerns about interactions, please check with your physician or go to the FDA [link] site for a comprehensive list of warnings

Article Sources
Last Updated: Nov 25, 2018