lithium for bipolar disoder

Lithium for Bipolar Disorder

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Mental health conditions can be particularly tricky to treat. Most mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, stem from a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes the brain to behave in ways that aren’t considered to be “normal”. Because of this, most mental health treatments revolve around different forms of therapy instead of medications, as most medications also cause the brain to think and behave differently. In some cases though, medications are needed to help treat mental health conditions. In fact, oftentimes, mental health treatment includes both medication and therapy.  For example, lithium for bipolar disorder is an example of a medication for a mental illness. 

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes a person to have very quick shifts between depression and mania. Someone who suffers from bipolar disorder can be happy and joyous one moment and then with the proverbial snap of a finger can be significantly sad and depressed. 

For someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, there is no real transition between feeling depressed and feeling manic. People with bipolar disorder often go back and forth between these two extreme emotions instantaneously. It can happen at any moment for no real reason. 

Most people who suffer from bipolar disorder tend to begin experiencing symptoms before the age of 25. Common signs and symptoms associated with bipolar disorder include:

  • Sadness
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of interest
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of sleep
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Poor judgment
  • Poor impulse control
  • Racing thoughts
  • Inflated self-esteem

Constant changes between depression and mania can make it very difficult for a person to go about living daily life. It can lead to trouble starting or maintaining relationships and can even lead to poor performance at work or school. Unfortunately for some people, the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder are just too much for them and they resort to suicide or self-harm. 

What Is Lithium?

Lithium is a mood stabilizer that is often used to help treat the effects of bipolar disorder. In fact, it is one of the most widely used medications by doctors and therapists for treating bipolar disorder. Lithium can be taken via tablet, capsule, or even an oral solution. It is also a popular option due in large part to its affordability. 

For those suffering from bipolar disorder, lithium helps control the feelings of mania, hypomania, depression, and psychosis. All of these feelings are associated with bipolar disorder in some way. 

What also makes lithium ideal for those suffering from bipolar disorder is that it is a naturally occurring element, meaning it isn’t synthetically made. This can help those who are fearful that taking a medication might make their mental illness worse.  

Lithium has even been used as a mood stabilizer dating all the way back to the late 1800s. It was formally approved by the FDA in 1970.

How Exactly Does Lithium Treat Bipolar Disorder?

Lithium, at its core, is a mood stabilizer. For someone who suffers from the extreme mood swings that are associated with bipolar disorder, taking lithium for bipolar disorder can be a way to help alleviate some of the illness’s extremes and come closer to the center. 

Taking lithium is often the first course of action when it comes to bipolar disorder treatment. Remember, it can take several weeks for lithium for bipolar disorder to work to its optimal levels. Taking lithium for bipolar disorder also often requires constant monitoring due to its potentially dangerous side effects. 

While lithium is incredibly effective, it can also be incredibly dangerous if not properly prescribed and monitored. That’s because, in order for lithium to be effective, the amount of the medication needed comes very close to the amount needed to poison the body. 

Taking too much lithium can cause lithium toxicity, which can be incredibly dangerous. This is why it is imperative to only take the amount of lithium that is directed by your doctor. It’s also why your doctor will likely constantly monitor you and adjust your lithium intake if needed. 

What Are Some of the Side Effects Associated with Lithium?

Side effects are pretty common for all types of medications. That being said, with the amount of lithium required to successfully treat bipolar disorder, use of the medication can lead to significant side effects, even if properly monitored. 

Some of the side effects of lithium use include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Hand tremors
  • Constantly being thirsty
  • Lack of coordination
  • Drowsiness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Blurry vision
  • Rining in the ears
  • Lack of muscle control

Serious Issues

For some people, taking lithium for bipolar disorder can lead to severe and serious side effects. While lithium side effects are rare, it is important to know all the information going in about them so that you can make the best decision possible when it comes to whether nor not to take the medication. 

As always, it is important to talk with your doctor before starting a lithium regime. It’s also important to communicate any potential issues that might have come up during treatment. 

One of the biggest things that lithium can hurt is the kidney. Lithium can lead to an increased risk of kidney disease, especially in those who may already suffer from a kidney-related issue. If it gets to a point where the kidneys start to fail, your doctor can take you off lithium and that will reverse the failure. 

In rare instances, lithium treatment can also lead to the development of Brugada syndrome, especially in those who are predisposed to it. Brugada syndrome is a sudden rapid and uncoordinated opening and closing of the ventricles in the heart. 

If you are taking lithium and begin experiencing any of the following symptoms, call your doctor or 9-1-1 immediately:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Abnormally beating heart
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness that persists

Before taking lithium for bipolar disorder, it is also important to discuss with your doctor any other medications you may be taking, either prescribed or over-the-counter, as certain medications cannot be mixed with lithium. This is because mixing certain medications with lithium can be catastrophic.

What Other Treatment Options Are Available For Bipolar Disorder?

If for whatever reason lithium isn’t right for you, there are other options out there when it comes to treating bipolar disorder. One of the most successful treatment methods, along with lithium for bipolar disorder is psychological treatment. In fact, even if you are prescribed lithium, you will likely still undergo psychological treatment.


Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can be an effective treatment option for those suffering from bipolar disorder. This type of therapy helps people identify and change their thoughts, actions, and behaviors. 

Psychotherapy is essentially a way to teach people how to reprogram their brains so that they won’t suffer from bipolar disorder anymore. Lithium can also lessen the severity of mental illness. 

Psychotherapy is a great way for someone with bipolar disorder to get the support, guidance, and education that he or she needs to combat the disease. It’s also a great tool for family members of those suffering from bipolar disorder. 

One of the most common and popular forms of psychotherapy for those suffering from bipolar disorder is cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. CBT helps change the negative thinking and behavior associated with depression into positive ones that make coping with OCD much easier. 

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Unfortunately, in some cases neither lithium nor psychotherapy work when it comes to treating bipolar disorder. In those cases, electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, might be tried. 

ECT is a brain stimulation procedure that is performed to relieve severe symptoms associated with bipolar disorder. This treatment tends to last several weeks and is performed under general anesthesia. ECT can also be effective in treating bipolar disorder when a rapid response is needed, such as when someone is suffering from extreme suicidal thoughts or actions or in cases where the person is catatonic or unresponsive. 

Want To Know More About Lithium For Bipolar Disorder?

For those suffering from bipolar disorder, it can sometimes be difficult to just get through the day. The severe mood swings and constant feelings that come with bipolar disorder can be difficult to live with. The good news though is that there are treatment options available for those with bipolar disorder. Amongst these options includes lithium. 

At Montare Behavioral Health, we know what it can be like to live life with a mental health condition. That’s why we offer a variety of treatment options for not just bipolar disorder but other mental health issues including OCD, PTSD, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, ADD or ADHD, and many others. 

If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health condition such as bipolar disorder, contact us today. We can discuss treatment options and help you get back on track to living a happy and healthy life.