- What is lithium, and how does it work (mechanism of action)?
- What brand names are available for lithium?
- Is lithium available as a generic drug?
- Do I need a prescription for lithium?
- What are the uses for lithium?
- What are the side effects of lithium?
- What is the dosage for lithium?
- Which drugs or supplements interact with lithium?
- Is lithium safe to take if I'm pregnant or breastfeeding?
- What else should I know about lithium?
What is lithium, and how does it work (mechanism of action)?
Lithium is used for the treatment of manic/depressive (bipolar) and depressive disorders. Lithium is a positively charged element or particle that is similar to sodium and potassium. It interferes at several places inside cells and on the cell surface with other positively charged atoms such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium which are important in many cellular functions.
Lithium interferes with the production and uptake of chemical messengers by which nerves communicate with each other (neurotransmitters). Lithium also affects the concentrations of tryptophan and serotonin in the brain. In addition, lithium increases the production of white blood cells in the bone marrow. Lithium's effects usually begin within 1 week of starting treatment, and the full effect is seen by 2 to 3 weeks.
Lithium has been used since the 1950's. The FDA approved lithium carbonate, the most common lithium preparation in 1970.
What brand names are available for lithium?
Is lithium available as a generic drug?
GENERIC AVAILABLE: Yes
Do I need a prescription for lithium?
What are the uses for lithium?
- Lithium is used for treating manic episodes due to bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness).
- It also is combined with antidepressants to treat depression.
What are the side effects of lithium?
The most common side effects that can occur in persons taking lithium are:
- Fine hand tremor
- Dry mouth
- Altered taste perception
- Decreased memory
- Muscle weakness
- Weight gain
- Increased thirst
- Increased frequency of urination
- Mild nausea or vomiting
- Decreased libido
- Kidney abnormalities
Many of the gastrointestinal side effects (nausea, taste alterations, diarrhea) often disappear with continued therapy. Additionally, they may be less common if lithium is taken in divided doses with meals. If diarrhea or excessive urination lead to dehydration, lithium toxicity is possible. Lithium also can cause changes in the electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG), low blood pressure, and decreased heart rate.
Quick GuideBipolar Disorder: Symptoms, Testing for Bipolar Depression
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