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When Taking Lithium-What You Should Know

Updated on September 26, 2011

Lithium For Bipolar Disorder

Lithium Carbonate is the drug most commonly used to treat bipolar (manic depressive) disorder. Lithium is usually effective in the treatment of the manic phase & in acute bipolar depression. It serves as a mood stabilizer and is helpful in 70-80% of bipolar patients. It works to stabilize the mood and reduce extremes in behavior by restoring the balance of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.

Some of the benefits of using Lithium include decreasing how often manic episodes occur and decreasing the symptoms of manic episodes such as exaggerated feelings of euphoria, feelings that others want to hurt you, irritability, anxiousness, rapid/loud speech, and aggressive behaviors.

Lithium Tablets
Lithium Tablets

What You Should Know

1. It is crucial you take Lithium on a regular basis, exactly as your psychiatrist/doctor prescribed it for you. Taking to much or to little can alter your lithium blood levels.

2. Your psychiatrist will order regular blood tests for Lithium levels. The therapeutic blood level is generally between .6 & 1.2mEQ/L. A level higher than 1.5 mEq/L can be dangerous. Levels below .5 to .6 mEq/L should be considered acceptable only for some elderly persons or those who cannot tolerate more. Your blood test should be taken 12 hours after your last dose of Lithium.

3. Share with your doctor of any other medications you are taking, Lithium may interact with numerous drugs including Ibuprofen (Motrin,Advil), anti-inflammatory drugs, calcium channel blockers, Carbamazepine(Tegretol), diuretics, hydroxyzine, Marijuana, muscle relaxants, neuroleptics, table salt, baking powder, tricyclic antidepressants, MAO inhibitors, caffeine, or various other drugs. Because your doctor will normally order lab tests to make sure your Lithium levels are safe.

4. If you are planning to become pregnant it is critical you confer with your doctor if you are taking Lithium. Because Lithium has the potentiality to cause abnormalities in unborn children.

5. Notify your doctor if you are having any substantial changes in your weight or eating habits. This could be a direct result of taking Lithium, if you are dieting this may change your Lithium blood levels. An adjustment might need to be made.

6. Advise your doctor about any changes in frequency of urination, diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating, or physical illness, because an adjustment of your dosage may be required. The above symptoms all indicate possible Lithium toxicity. This happens when your Lithium levels get to high.

7. If you are having surgery, dental work, or seeing another doctor it is important they know you are taking Lithium.

8. Because it may take two to three weeks for Lithium to control your mood swings try not to get discouraged. Your doctor may prescribe another medication along with Lithium to control your symptoms. Continue taking your medication as prescribed until advised otherwise by your doctor. Poor response to Lithium is sometimes due to a failure to follow the prescribed schedule, 25 to 50% of patients on Lithium fail to take it as prescribed.

9. Your doctor should give you a physical exam before starting you on Lithium. Kidney function, thyroid, blood salts, & blood cell count should be checked and an ECG is also important to consider.

Take Your Lithium As Directed
Take Your Lithium As Directed

Things To Remember

There are some people who should not take Lithium. Those who have a history of kidney disease, heart problems and those people who are taking diuretics for high blood pressure.

Many people have nausea from taking Lithium. Trying the slow-release tablets (Lithobid, Eskalith) are much more tolerated. But may cost you more because they are not generic.

You may have to take Lithium indefinitely, which means taking Lithium is as important as insulin is to a diabetic. If the medication works like it is supposed to, and you take it as directed, you have a 100 percent chance of preventing any major episodes in the future.


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    • crazybeanrider profile image

      Boo McCourt 3 years ago from Washington MI

      Oh yes, I suspect lithium had a lot to do with my dental problems as well. Of course I can't prove that but I believe many of these medications do harm to teeth.

    • crazybeanrider profile image

      Boo McCourt 6 years ago from Washington MI

      Excellent tips, thank you, water is very important. You don't want to get dehydrated. Thank you Anwyn.

    • profile image

      Anwyn 6 years ago

      I have been on Lithium for 3 years now,so much better. Check blood levels,drink plenty of water and sleep good amounts.....

    • crazybeanrider profile image

      Boo McCourt 7 years ago from Washington MI

      Hey Rosey,

      Lithium is very good for mania. It worked really well for me in that regard. I drank a lot of fluids because of the dry mouth. I always had hand tremors that never went away. I lost a lot of weight as well. I just hated how it made me feel like a big old stone. Thanks so much for the comment.

    • schoolgirlforreal profile image

      schoolgirlforreal 7 years ago

      Lithium keeps me from getting manic though I get somewhat depressed and very irritable.

      It has ruined my teeth w/ many cavities, as it dries out the mouth...and so on.

      I guess we get the good w/ the bad!

      Good article (and true)