Lithium is helpful in evening out the lows (depression) and the highs (mania) of patients moods that are associated with bipolar disorder. It can also be used to treat patients with depression who do not suffer from bipolar disorder.
How Lithium Works
Lithium carbonate is a form of salt. It was approved for use in the U.S. in 1970. Lithium actually effects the flow of sodium through nerve and muscle cells located in the body. Sodium is what affects mania or excitation.
Blood levels on patients taking Lithium will need to be monitored. Studies indicate that patients respond best to Lithium when blood levels are between 0.6-1.2mmol/L. Blood samples will also indicate if a patient has too much Lithium in their system. This could result in side effects. Too little Lithium may not treat symptoms adequately.
What Lithium Treats
Lithium was developed to treat manic depression, bipolar disorder. It evens out the highs (mania) and lows (depression) in moods associated with bipolar disorder.
Lithium is also prescribed for patients with depression, who have never experienced a manic episode. When prescribed for depression, Lithium is often added to an additional antidepressant.
Certain schizophrenia patients have been treated with Lithium. These patients experience changes in thinking at the same time as a mood change and it resembles either depression or mania.
Lithium Administration and Dosage
Lithium is available in either tablets or capsules. This medication is generally taken 2 or 3 times a day due to upset stomach occuring. Physicians will determine the correct daily dosage.
Lithium should be taken with food to help avoid stomach upset. It should never be taken with caffeine products, such as coffee, sodas, or tea. Caffeine can decrease Lithium levels in a patient’s body.
Side Effects of Lithium
Common side effects experienced while taking Lithium can include loss of appetite, nausea, stomach upset, mild tremor of the hands, weakness, lack of coordiation, itching skin, or thinning or drying of hair.
If a patient experiences signs of an allergic reaction to Lithium, medical help should be sought immediately. Signs of an allergic reaction can include hives, difficulty breathing, swelling of the lips, tongue, face, or throat.
Patients should stop taking Lithium and consult their physician immediately if they experience any of the following side effects: extreme thirst, frequent or less urination, fever, eye or vision problems, feelings of restlessness or confusion, weakness, pain, discoloration of fingers or toes, cold feeling, slow heart rate, fainting, light-headedness, hallucinations, seizure, muscle stiffness, sweating, or fast or uneven heartrate.
Important Information Regarding Lithium
Bipolar disorder, manic depression and schizophrenia all require long-term treatment. Physicians will determine the length of time for treatment with Lithium.
Pregnant women taking Lithium during the first three months have an associated risk of their baby having a heart valve defect. Babies exposed to Lithium during that time frame have a 1 in 2,000 chance of developing a heart valve defect.
Lithium, when used as prescribed, has helped patients control their condition. Lithium should be continued even when patients are feeling well. Patients need to avoid excessive amounts of caffeinated beverages. Never start a low salt diet while on Lithium without first discussing this with a healthcare provider. Low sodium blood levels can lead to Lithium toxicity.