Lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid, generic) is the most widely used and studied mood stabilizing drug for bipolar disorder. Lithium is extremely helpful for most patients. It can help control symptoms of mania and prevent recurrent manic episodes. It can also help treat bipolar depression and reduce suicide risk.
Administration of Lithium. Lithium may take several weeks to become fully effective, so patients should not expect an immediate response during an acute episode.
Lithium blood levels should be monitored regularly to determine the best dosage and to prevent lithium toxicity. In addition, the doctor needs to monitor the patient’s kidney and thyroid function. Lithium can cause low thyroid levels (hypothyroidism), which can affect mood. Some patients need to take thyroid medication while on lithium.
Lithium Toxicity. If lithium levels in the blood are too high, lithium toxicity (overdose) can occur. Signs of toxicity include:
- Trembling hands
- Increased urine output
- Blurred vision
- Some loss of coordination
Severe reactions occurring at very high blood levels include:
Review Date: 01/28/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.