Regarding COVID-19: We are currently open and taking residential level.

Lithium Side Effects: Knowing Your Treatment

lithium side effects

Table of Contents

Lithium is one of the most frequently used medications for the treatment of bipolar. This mood stabilizer is sometimes also prescribed off-label for bipolar and depression. If you talk to your doctor about depression they may evaluate you to see how severe of a case you have, and depending on the evaluation and possible results of blood tests, they may prescribe you this powerful medication. While the treatment can be helpful to many, there are also Lithium side effects that come when you start and stop taking lithium. 

How Does Lithium Work?

Researchers and doctors believe it helps improve the nerve cell connections in the areas of your brain responsible for the regulation of thinking, mood, and behavior and increases serotonin levels. It takes several weeks for lithium to begin working, and it’s best to maintain constant plasma lithium levels. 

There are lithium supplements as well, which are very low doses. Dietary low-dose lithium is called lithium orotate. Lithium orotate is a different lithium salt than what’s in prescription versions of the medication. The oral prescription medications use lithium carbonate or citrate.  

Lithium Side Effects

Common side effects and adverse effects can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Change in appetite
  • Hand tremors
  • Increased thirst
  • Muscle weakness 
  • More frequent urination
  • Hair loss
  • A rash similar to acne
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Diarrhea
  • Troubled breathing
  • Blurred vision

Symptoms of lithium toxicity can include severe nausea and vomiting, confusion, and vision changes. You need to get medical attention right away if you experience these signs of lithium toxicity so they can check your serum lithium level. An increased risk of cardiovascular disease or changes in heart rate are possible in lithium-treated patients. 

  • Taking this medication can lead to diabetes insipidus, causing more thirst and urination and impacting renal and kidney function. Blood glucose monitoring can help prevent the development of diabetes insipidus. 
  • With long-term lithium use among the potential side effects, you might develop hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is a condition where you have low thyroid functions and hormone levels. 
  • There are quite a few prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines and supplements that can impact lithium levels, so tell your doctor about anything you take. For example, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs shouldn’t be taken with this medicine and can interfere with the effectiveness of lithium. 

Lithium Dosage for Bipolar

Bipolar disorder manic depressive is also known as bipolar depression, manic depression, or manic-depressive disorder. We all have normal ups and downs in our moods, but bipolar disorder is more extreme than that. The mood changes that characterize bipolar disorder can be severe.

Treatment with lithium is one option for this disorder. The lithium dosage for bipolar can vary depending on individual characteristics. Taking this psychotropic medication requires regular monitoring with long-term use to maintain proper therapeutic levels of serum lithium concentrations. 

Below are general things to know about bipolar and the treatment and specifics about the effects of lithium and lithium side effects. 

Understanding Bipolar

When someone has bipolar depression, they may experience times where they’re manic. 

  • During a manic episode, a person might feel euphoric. Their energy and activity levels go up. Someone who’s experiencing a manic episode might overspend money or behave in other reckless ways. A person can feel like they’re on top of the world, with a loss of appetite and less of a need for sleep. 
  • Sometimes, acute mania can also cause irritability or even violence.
  • Then, there are depressive periods that are part of bipolar disorder. When someone is going through a depressive episode, they may feel sad, empty, or hopeless. Their energy and activity levels go down, and they may eat and sleep more.
  • Hypomanic episodes are like a manic phase, but they’re less severe and don’t tend to interfere with daily life as much.

This disorder is lifelong, but treatment can help you manage the symptoms successfully. Getting proper treatment is extremely important because untreated bipolar disorder can lead to job loss, relationship problems, and suicide.

There are three general types of bipolar, including symptoms that relate to mood, activity, and energy levels.

  • People with bipolar I disorder may have manic symptoms that can become severe enough to need hospitalization. They may also have depressive episodes lasting at least two weeks. 
  • In bipolar II disorder, there are patterns of depression and hypomanic episodes, but not full-blown mania. 
  • A third category, cyclothymic disorder, includes ongoing hypomania and depressive symptoms that are less severe than in the other type categories.
  • It’s also possible to have unspecified bipolar.

Co-occurring conditions are sometimes seen in people with bipolar include psychosis, ADHD, substance abuse, and eating disorders.

We don’t know the exact causes of this mental disorder, but there’s likely a combination of factors playing a role for most people. For example, the condition tends to run in families, and researchers think genetics is part of bipolar mania symptoms. Many genes are involved—not just one in particular.

The structure and function of the brain and also environmental factors can lead to this diagnosis.

Bipolar Treatment

This mental health disorder is complex and can impact a person’s day-to-day functioning in severe ways. You can manage the symptoms, but it usually requires a multidisciplinary treatment team and a combination of methods.

Treating bipolar can also require some trial and error to find the right medicines and dosages.

Treatment plans may include:

  • Medicines: Medications like lithium are the cornerstone of treating this disorder. You may have to try several mood stabilizers to find the right fit for your brain chemistry. Atypical antipsychotics are another class of medicines that are useful. 
  • Psychotherapy: Talk therapy or behavioral therapy helps you identify problematic behaviors and emotions and develop practical coping skills. You might learn how to improve your relationship in family therapy and deal with the symptoms of your illness.
  • Lifestyle changes: Your mental health provider might advise you to make changes in your life to help improve the effectiveness of your treatment plan. These changes could include following a sleep schedule, eating healthy foods, and getting plenty of exercise.

What is the Lithium Dosage for Bipolar?

The amount of lithium dosage for bipolar usually is between 300 mg, 600 mg, and 1200 mg a day. 

  • Typically, a doctor will begin a patient on a low dose and gradually increase it over several weeks. 
  • Depending on your symptoms or weight and individual health, you may need a higher lithium dose than 1200 mg a day. 
  • Elderly patients or people with certain health conditions may need a lower dose. 
  • There are liquid versions and also an extended-release tablet option. 
  • Most people take lithium one to three times a day with food. 
  • Your doctor will monitor your levels of lithium the entire time you’re on the medication. 

Only a healthcare professional can determine the proper dose of lithium for bipolar in your particular situation.

You shouldn’t take certain things when you’re on lithium, including illegal drugs, which can worsen your bipolar or increase the medication’s side effects. You should make sure you have adequate salt intake, and you need to drink plenty of water—otherwise, you could be at risk of lithium toxicity.

Caffeinated beverages can decrease your lithium levels. Your doctor may advise you to avoid certain over-the-counter pain medications, which can also raise the risk of toxicity on this medicine and impact the effects of lithium.

Keeping Up with Your Long-Term Treatment Plan

If your health care professional prescribes you oral lithium to treat mania and depression, you should make sure that you tell them about any side effects and how you feel during those first few weeks. It takes at least several weeks to determine if it will be the correct medicine for you and whether you’ll have a response to treatment. Mood stabilizers are usually lifelong treatments for bipolar patients, but your doctor will go over what’s best for you.

Even when you begin to feel better and have a clinical response, it’s essential to keep up with what your doctor tells you to do because otherwise, your symptoms can worsen. Your doctor will also have to continuously monitor you for side effects like kidney disease throughout your treatment. 

If you’d like to learn more about treatment for bipolar disorder or any other mental illness, please feel free to contact the team at The Mental Health Center of San Diego by calling 858-465-7722 today. Everyone is unique and requires an individualized treatment plan, which we can help guide.