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Generic name: lithium carbonate; trade name: Eskalith, Lithane, Lithobid. Lithium.
Lithium is used for a variety of conditions, including major depression (“unipolar” depression) and bipolar disorder. It has both antidepressant effects and antimanic effects, although its well-known antimanic effects are somewhat stronger. Around the world, it is the medication used most often to treat bipolar disorder. Lithium is a naturally occurring mineral that is similar to sodium and potassium.
Although lithium will reduce severe manic symptoms in about 5 to 14 days, it may be weeks to several months before the condition is fully controlled. Antipsychotic medications are sometimes used in the first several days of treatment to control manic symptoms until the lithium begins to take effect.
Some people respond well to maintenance treatment and have no further episodes. Others may have moderate mood swings that lessen as treatment continues, or have less frequent or less severe episodes. For some people, lithium is not effective.
With regular monitoring, lithium is a safe and effective drug that enables many people, who otherwise would suffer from incapacitating mood swings, to lead normal lives. But it’s important to be aware of precautions, side effects and risks.
Take each dose as prescribed.
Periodic blood tests are advised to measure for safe and effective lithium levels.
Side effects can include:
Some of the above may disappear or decrease over time or may be managed by lowering the dosage.
Weight gain is common. Difficulty thinking, learning and remembering can occur, especially at higher doses.
Avoid coffee, tea, and cola
A lithium overdose can be life-threatening.
Other health conditions
Page updated February 1, 2010