Lithium Medication: Uses, How to Take & Side Effects

Updated in January 2024

Lithium, or lithium carbonate, is a medication indicated for the treatment and control of depression or manic episodes in bipolar disorder. It acts directly on the brain to stabilize mood.

This medicine can be obtained at the pharmacy with a prescription in the from of tablets.

The dose and duration of treatment with lithium depend on the condition being treated and the doctor's medical assessment. It should not be used during pregnancy nor should it used by patients with a history of kidney or cardiovascular disease.

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Common uses

Lithium can be indicated for the treatment of bipolar disorder, to prevent manic or depressive phases, as well as to treat psychomotor hyperactivity.

Lithium can also be used, along with other antidepressant medications, to help treat depression.

How to take

The lithium tablet must be taken orally, with a glass of water, at the times established by the doctor.

Lithium dosing depends on the condition being treated and should be guided by the doctor on an individual basis. The doctor will order ongoing blood tests for patients on lithium to check lithium levels in the body during treatment, and to assess the response to treatment.

It is recommended to drink at least 1 liter to 1.5 liters of liquid per day during lithium treatment, and to maintain a diet with normal amounts of salt.

Possible side effects

The most common side effects of taking lithium are dizziness, hand tremors, excessive thirst, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weight gain, increased thyroid size, excessive urination and involuntary loss of urine.

Lithium can cause serious allergic reactions that require immediate medical attention. Therefore, you should stop treatment immediately and seek urgent medical attention if you experience symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, a feeling of a closed throat, hives and swelling in the mouth, tongue or face.

You should also seek immediate medical attention if you take excessively higher doses of lithium. Symptoms of overdose include muscle weakness, muscle spasms, drowsiness, dizziness, mood changes, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, heart palpitations appear, mental confusion, slurred speech, difficulty breathing and seizures.

Contraindications for use

Lithium should not be used by patients with kidney or cardiovascular disease or dehydration.

It should not be taken by patients who are on diuretic medications, or by those allergic to lithium or its components.

Lithium should not be used during pregnancy because it can cross the placenta and cause fetal malformations. The use of lithium during breastfeeding is also not recommended.