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Lithium

Generic Name: lithium (LITH ee um)
Brand Name: Lithobid, Eskalith, Lithonate, Lithotabs, Eskalith-CR

Medically reviewed on June 5, 2018

What is lithium?

Lithium affects the flow of sodium through nerve and muscle cells in the body. Sodium affects excitation or mania.

Lithium is used to treat the manic episodes of bipolar disorder (manic depression). Manic symptoms include hyperactivity, rushed speech, poor judgment, reduced need for sleep, aggression, and anger. Lithium also helps to prevent or lessen the intensity of manic episodes.

Lithium may also be used for purposes not listed in this medication guide.

Important Information

Follow all directions on your medicine label and package. Tell each of your healthcare providers about all your medical conditions, allergies, and all medicines you use.

Before taking this medicine

You should not use lithium if you are allergic to it.

Tell your doctor if you have ever had:

  • an abnormal electrocardiograph or ECG (sometimes called an EKG);

  • fainting spells;

  • a family history of death before age 45;

  • kidney disease;

  • heart disease;

  • a debilitating illness;

  • a thyroid disorder;

  • low levels of sodium in your blood; or

  • if you are dehydrated.

Some medicines can interact with lithium and cause a serious condition called serotonin syndrome. Be sure your doctor knows if you also take stimulant medicine, opioid medicine, herbal products, or medicine for depression, mental illness, Parkinson's disease, migraine headaches, serious infections, or prevention of nausea and vomiting. Ask your doctor before making any changes in how or when you take your medications.

It is not known whether lithium will harm an unborn baby. Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.

You should not breast-feed while using this medicine.

Lithium is not approved for use by anyone younger than 12 years old.

How should I take lithium?

Follow all directions on your prescription label and read all medication guides or instruction sheets. Your doctor may occasionally change your dose. Never use lithium in larger amounts, or for longer than prescribed. Lithium overdose can occur if you take only slightly more than a recommended dose.

Swallow the tablet whole and do not crush, chew, or break it.

Measure liquid medicine carefully. Use the dosing syringe provided, or use a medicine dose-measuring device (not a kitchen spoon).

Taking lithium can make it easier for you to become dehydrated, especially if you have any vomiting or diarrhea, if you are outdoors in the sun, or if you exercise vigorously or sweat more than usual. Dehydration can increase some of the side effects of lithium.

Call your doctor if you are sick with a fever and vomiting or diarrhea, or if you are sweating more than usual. You can easily become dehydrated while taking lithium, which may affect your dose needs. Do not change your dose or medication schedule without your doctor's advice.

Drink extra fluids each day to prevent dehydration.

It may take up to 3 weeks before your symptoms improve. Keep using the medication as directed and tell your doctor if your symptoms do not begin to improve after 1 week of treatment.

You may need frequent blood tests.

If you need surgery, tell the surgeon ahead of time that you are using lithium.

Store at room temperature away from moisture and heat. Keep the bottle tightly closed when not in use.

What happens if I miss a dose?

Take the medicine as soon as you can, but skip the missed dose if it is almost time for your next dose. Do not take two doses at one time.

What happens if I overdose?

Stop taking lithium and seek emergency medical attention or call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.

Early signs of lithium toxicity include: vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, loss of balance or coordination, drowsiness, or muscle weakness.

What should I avoid while taking lithium?

Avoid driving or hazardous activity until you know how lithium will affect you. Your reactions could be impaired.

Avoid becoming overheated or dehydrated during exercise, in hot weather, or by not drinking enough fluids. Follow your doctor's instructions about the type and amount of liquids you should drink.

Do not change the amount of salt you consume in your diet. Changing your salt intake could change the amount of lithium in your blood.

Lithium side effects

Get emergency medical help if you have signs of an allergic reaction: hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor at once if you have:

  • a light-headed feeling, like you might pass out;

  • irregular heartbeats, shortness of breath;

  • fever, increased thirst or urination;

  • weakness, dizziness or spinning sensation;

  • confusion, memory problems, hallucinations;

  • uncontrolled muscle movements, slurred speech;

  • loss of bowel or bladder control;

  • a seizure (blackout or convulsions);

  • dehydration symptoms--feeling very thirsty or hot, being unable to urinate, heavy sweating, or hot and dry skin; or

  • increased pressure inside the skull--severe headaches, ringing in your ears, dizziness, nausea, vision problems, pain behind your eyes.

Seek medical attention right away if you have symptoms of serotonin syndrome, such as: agitation, hallucinations, fever, sweating, shivering, fast heart rate, muscle stiffness, twitching, loss of coordination, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Common side effects may include:

  • drowsiness;

  • tremors in your hands;

  • dry mouth, increased thirst or urination;

  • nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach pain;

  • changes in your skin or hair;

  • cold feeling or discoloration in your fingers or toes;

  • feeling uneasy; or

  • impotence, loss of interest in sex.

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

See also: Side effects (in more detail)

What other drugs will affect lithium?

Tell your doctor about all your current medicines. Many drugs can affect lithium, especially:

This list is not complete and many other drugs may affect lithium. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products. Not all possible drug interactions are listed here.

Further information

Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use this medication only for the indication prescribed.

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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