Skip to Content

Lithium Side Effects

For the Consumer

Applies to lithium: oral capsule, oral solution, oral syrup, oral tablet, oral tablet extended release

In addition to its needed effects, some unwanted effects may be caused by lithium. In the event that any of these side effects do occur, they may require medical attention.

Severity: Major

You should check with your doctor immediately if any of these side effects occur when taking lithium:

Less common:
  • Confusion, poor memory, or lack of awareness
  • fainting
  • fast or slow heartbeat
  • frequent urination
  • increased thirst
  • irregular pulse
  • stiffness of the arms or legs
  • troubled breathing (especially during hard work or exercise)
  • unusual tiredness or weakness
  • weight gain
  • Blue color and pain in the fingers and toes
  • coldness of the arms and legs
  • dizziness
  • eye pain
  • headache
  • noise in the ears
  • vision problems
Incidence not known:
  • Dry, rough skin
  • fast, irregular, pounding, or racing heartbeat or pulse
  • hair loss
  • hoarseness
  • lightheadedness
  • mental depression
  • sensitivity to cold
  • shortness of breath
  • swelling of the feet or lower legs
  • swelling of the neck
  • unusual excitement

If any of the following symptoms of overdose occur while taking lithium, get emergency help immediately:

Symptoms of overdose:
  • Blurred vision
  • clumsiness or unsteadiness
  • convulsions (seizures)
  • diarrhea
  • drowsiness
  • increase in the amount of urine
  • lack of coordination
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle weakness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • ringing in the ears
  • slurred speech
  • trembling (severe)

Severity: Minor

Some of the side effects that can occur with lithium may not need medical attention. As your body adjusts to the medicine during treatment these side effects may go away. Your health care professional may also be able to tell you about ways to reduce or prevent some of these side effects. If any of the following side effects continue, are bothersome or if you have any questions about them, check with your health care professional:

Less common:
  • Acne or skin rash
  • bloated feeling or pressure in the stomach
  • muscle twitching (slight)

For Healthcare Professionals

Applies to lithium: compounding powder, oral capsule, oral syrup, oral tablet, oral tablet extended release

Nervous system

The hand tremor associated with lithium therapy is usually a fine rapid intentional tremor. Coarsening of the tremor or occurrence of tremor in a new part of the body may suggest lithium toxicity.

A wide variety of other nervous system effects have been reported and include ataxia, dysarthria, hyperreflexia, other movement disorders, EEG changes, blackouts, stupor, coma, central incontinence, sleep disturbances, dizziness, vertigo, pseudotumor cerebri, seizures, and worsening of organic brain syndrome.

One study (n=34) has concluded that chronic maintenance treatment with lithium affects the peripheral nerves even if the impairment rarely leads to discontinuation of therapy. This study suggests that monitoring of electroneuronographic results could be useful for the early detection of neurotoxicity of lithium.[Ref]

Nervous system side effects most commonly have included nervous system effects include tremor, lethargy, lassitude, and muscle weakness. Headache, decreased concentration and confusion also have been reported less frequently. Most of these effects resolve during continuing therapy.[Ref]


Taking lithium with meals or dividing doses may ameliorate some of the gastrointestinal effects of lithium.[Ref]

Gastrointestinal side effects including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, abdominal pain, and dry mouth have been reported frequently.[Ref]


Renal side effects including nephrogenic diabetes insipidus have been reported in as many as 50% of patients started on lithium. As a consequence, many patients experience polydipsia and polyuria. Rarely, some patients may show serum electrolyte abnormalities and clinical evidence of dehydration.[Ref]

The nephrogenic diabetes insipidus associated with lithium therapy is generally reversible after discontinuation of lithium but may take up to a year or more to resolve.

Some investigators have suggested that indomethacin may be useful in the treatment of lithium-induced nephrogenic diabetes insipidus. The mechanism of action of indomethacin's favorable effects may be related to its antiprostaglandin activity or to the prevention of sodium loss in the ascending loop of Henle. Other investigators have recommended amiloride as a useful drug in the medical management of lithium-induced nephrogenic diabetes insipidus.

Moderate reversible increases in blood urea nitrogen and serum creatinine as well as proteinuria have been observed in patients with lithium toxicity. Rarely the decreases in glomerular filtration have been persistent. A variety of renal effects have been reported and include glomerular sclerosis, interstitial fibrosis, chronic interstitial nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, renal tubular acidosis and tubular atrophy.[Ref]


Lithium exerts multiple effects on the thyroid gland. Most importantly it inhibits the release of thyroxine and triiodothyronine and can lead to enhanced thyrotropin activity resulting in goiter. Therefore some clinicians recommend baseline thyroid function tests and yearly thyroid function tests while patients are on lithium.[Ref]

Endocrine side effects including clinically evident hypothyroidism (1% to 4%) have been reported. Goiter occurs in approximately 5% of patients. Myxedema coma and hyperglycemia have been reported. A case of silent thyroiditis has also been reported.[Ref]


The EKG manifestations of lithium are similar to those seen in hypokalemia and include reversible flattening and inversion of the T wave.

In addition to the effects noted above, interstitial myocarditis has been reported in one patient who experienced lithium overdose.

Cases of sinus node dysfunction have also been reported (often in association with concomitant carbamazepine therapy).[Ref]

Cardiovascular side effects including a variety of arrhythmias, hypotension, peripheral circulatory collapse and EKG changes have been reported. There have been postmarketing reports of a possible association between treatment with lithium and the unmasking of Brugada Syndrome.[Ref]


Dermatologic side effects including alopecia have been reported fairly commonly. Folliculitis, maculopapular rash, acneform eruptions, exacerbations of psoriasis, and lower extremity ulcers have also been reported. One case of mycosis fungoides has been reported.[Ref]

Lithium-induced alopecia has generally been reported to occur within the first six months of treatment. Although the scalp is the most common site for lithium-associated hair loss, rare reports of body hair loss also exist. The alopecia appears to be reversible upon discontinuation of therapy.

Excessive lithium concentration has been determined not to be a contributing factor to hair loss. An increase in the telogen shedding rate has been determined to be the most likely mechanism for lithium-associated hair loss.[Ref]


Hematologic side effects including reversible leukocytosis (with leukocyte counts in the range of 8,000 to 15,000 cells/mm3) have been reported to occur in most patients on lithium. Erythrocytosis and thrombocytosis have been reported to occur much more rarely.[Ref]


General side effects including weight gain and, less frequently, weight loss as well as edema have been reported. Metallic taste in the mouth, fever and pruritus have also been reported.[Ref]


Hypersensitivity side effects including allergic vasculitis have been reported rarely.[Ref]


Genitourinary side effects may include a significant decrease sperm motility as suggested by one in vitro study.[Ref]


1. Reisberg B, Gershon S "Side effects associated with lithium therapy." Arch Gen Psychiatry 36 (1979): 879-87

2. Vestergaard P, Amdisen A, Schou M "Clinically significant side effects of lithium treatment." Acta Psychiatr Scand 62 (1980): 193-200

3. Faravelli C, DiBernardo M, Ricca V, Benvenuti P, Bartelli M, Ronchi O "Effects of chronic lithium treatment on the peripheral nervous system." J Clin Psychiatry 60 (1999): 306-10

4. Hurtig DL, Dyson WL "Lithium toxicity enhanced by diuresis." N Engl J Med 290 (1974): 748-9

5. Baldessarini RJ, Lipinski JF "Lithium salts: 1970-1975." Ann Intern Med 83 (1975): 527-33

6. Alvarez-Cermeno JC, Fernandez JM, O'Neill A, et al "Lithium-induced headache." Headache 29 (1989): 245-6

7. Ghadirian AM, Lehmann HE "Acquired transient CNS hypersensitivity to lithium therapy." Can J Psychiatry 25 (1980): 662-5

8. Gadallah MF, Feinstein EI, Massry SG "Lithium intoxication: clinical course and therapeutic considerations." Miner Electrolyte Metab 14 (1988): 146-9

9. Schou M, Amdisen A, Trap-Jensen J "Lithium poisoning: review of 8 cases of lithium toxicity." Am J Psychiatry 125 (1968): 520-7

10. "Lithium carbonate." Ann Intern Med 73 (1970): 291-3

11. Schou M, Baastrup PC, Grof P, Weis P, Angst J "Pharmacological and clinical problems of lithium prophylaxis." Br J Psychiatry 116 (1970): 615-9

12. Lavender S, Brown JN, Berrill WT "Acute renal failure and lithium intoxication." Postgrad Med J 49 (1973): 277-9

13. Bowden CL, Brugger AM, Swann AC, et al. "Efficacy of divalproex vs lithium and placebo in the treatment of mania." JAMA 271 (1994): 918-24

14. Depner TA "Nephrotic syndrome secondary to lithium therapy." Nephron 30 (1982): 286-9

15. Ramsey TA, Mendels J, Stokes JW, Fitzgerald RG "Lithium carbonate and kidney function." JAMA 219 (1972): 1446-9

16. Wood IK, Parmalee DX, Foreman JW "Lithium-induced nephrotic syndrome." Am J Psychiatry 146 (1989): 84-7

17. Martin A "Clinical management of lithium-induced polyuria." Hosp Community Psychiatry 44 (1993): 427-8

18. Walker RG "Lithium nephrotoxicity." Kidney Int Suppl 42 (1993): s93-8

19. Martinez EJ, Sinnott JT, 4th Rodriguez-Paz G, Oehler RL "Lithium-induced nephrogenic diabetes insipidus treated with indomethacin." South Med J 86 (1993): 971-3

20. Jorkasky DK, Amsterdam JD, Oler J, et al "Lithium-induced renal disease: a prospective study." Clin Nephrol 30 (1988): 293-302

21. Braden GL. Lithium induced renal diseases. In: Greenberg A, ed. "Primer on Kidney Diseases." San Diego, CA: Academic Press Inc. (1994): 173-4

22. Hestbech J, Aurell M "Lithium-induced uraemia." Lancet 01/27/79 (1979): 212-3

23. Hansen HE, Hestbech J, Olsen S, Amdisen A "Renal function and renal pathology in patients with lithium-induced impairment of renal concentrating ability." Dial Transplant Nephrol 14 (1977): 518-27

24. Hansen HE, Amdisen A "Lithium intoxication." Q J Med 47 (1978): 123-44

25. Gitlin MJ "Lithium-induced renal insufficiency." J Clin Psychopharmacol 13 (1993): 276-9

26. Terao T "Subclinical hypothyroidism in recurrent mania." Biol Psychiatry 33 (1993): 853-4

27. Shopsin B, Shenkman L, Blum M, Hollander CS "Iodine and lithium-induced hypothyroidism." Am J Med 55 (1973): 695-8

28. Numata S, Taniguchi K, Harada T, Tomotake M, Ohmori T "Silent thyroiditis associated with short-term lithium therapy." Gen Hosp Psychiatry 24 (2002): 451-3

29. Waldman SA, Park D "Myxedema coma associated with lithium therapy." Am J Med 87 (1989): 355-7

30. Segal RL, Rosenblatt S, Eliasoph I "Endocrine exophthalmos during lithium therapy of manic-depressive disease." N Engl J Med 289 (1973): 136-8

31. Ong AC, Handler CE "Sinus arrest and asystole due to severe lithium intoxication." Int J Cardiol 30 (1991): 364-6

32. Steckler TL "Lithium- and carbamazepine-associated sinus node dysfunction: nine-year experience in a psychiatric hospital." J Clin Psychopharmacol 14 (1994): 336-9

33. Wilson JR, Kraus ES, Bailas MM, Rakita L "Reversible sinus-node abnormalities due to lithium carbonate therapy." N Engl J Med 294 (1976): 1223-4

34. Tangedahl TN, Gau GT "Myocardial irritability associated with lithium carbonate therapy." N Engl J Med 287 (1972): 867-9

35. Arana GW, Dupont RM, Clawson LD "Is there clinical evidence that lithium toxicity can induce myocarditis?" J Clin Psychopharmacol 4 (1984): 364-5

36. Gautam M "Alopecia due to psychotropic medications." Ann Pharmacother 33 (1999): 631-7

37. Bakris GL, Smith DW, Tiwari S "Dermatologic manifestations of lithium: a review." Int J Psychiatry Med 10 (1981): 327-31

38. Oztas P, Aksakal AB, Oztas MO, Onder M "Severe acne with lithium." Ann Pharmacother 35(7-8) (2001): 961-2

39. Francis GJ, Silverman AR, Saleh O, Lee GJ "Follicular mycosis fungoides associated with Lithium." J Am Acad Dermatol 44 (2001): 308-9

40. Lapierre G, Stewart RB "Lithium carbonate and leukocytosis." Am J Hosp Pharm 37 (1980): 1525-8

41. Ozdemir MA, Sofuoglu S, Tanrikulu G, Aldanmaz F, Esel E, Dundar S "Lithium-induced hematologic changes in patients with bipolar affective disorder." Biol Psychiatry 35 (1994): 210-3

42. Shen M-R, Yang R-C, Chen S-S "Effects of lithium and haloperidol on human sperm motility in-vitro." J Pharmacol 44 (1992): 534-6

Not all side effects for lithium may be reported. You should always consult a doctor or healthcare professional for medical advice. Side effects can be reported to the FDA here.

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure that the information provided is accurate, up-to-date and complete, but no guarantee is made to that effect. In addition, the drug information contained herein may be time sensitive and should not be utilized as a reference resource beyond the date hereof. This material does not endorse drugs, diagnose patients, or recommend therapy. This information is a reference resource designed as supplement to, and not a substitute for, the expertise, skill , knowledge, and judgement of healthcare practitioners in patient care. The absence of a warning for a given drug or combination thereof in no way should be construed to indicate safety, effectiveness, or appropriateness for any given patient. does not assume any responsibility for any aspect of healthcare administered with the aid of materials provided. The information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. If you have questions about the substances you are taking, check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist.