What are the Lithium side effects?

Lithium is derived from the Greek word “lithos” which means stone, since it can be found in all rocks in trace amounts. Lithium is an element that is positively charged. When introduced to the body, it may affect the activities inside the cell and on the surface of the cells. It may also interfere with the other positively charged atoms like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. If the Lithium happens to affect the flow of sodium on the muscle cells and nerve, this might affect the mania or excitation episodes of the person.

Also, Lithium may affect the production and reuptake of neurotransmitters or the chemical messengers in the brain, particularly the tryptophan and serotonin. It can increase the activity of the neurotransmitters in the brain. Lithium can also increase the production of white blood cells in the bone marrow (WBC).

Since 1950s, Lithium has been available for use. But it was in 1970 when U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Lithium carbonate (the most common preparation) as a treatment for several conditions. Lithium is popularly known for its brand names Eskalith and Lithobid.


What is Lithium used for?

Lithium is better known as a highly effective treatment for manic episodes in bipolar disorder (manic-depressive disorder). It can also be used in combination with antidepressants to treat major depression.

But aside from these, Lithium can also help in the treatment of conditions like:

  • Schizophrenia- It is a mental disorder characterized by poor judgment on differentiating what’s real and not real, impaired emotional response, unable to think clearly, and difficulty on acting normally on social situations. Usually, Lithium is combined with antipsychotic drugs for better progress. But sometimes, Lithium can also be used alone.
  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – Lithium may resolve the impulsive-aggressive behavior of a child.
  • Eating disorders- this includes:

– Anorexia Nervosa- it is also a psychological disorder in which a person has an irrational food restriction, low self-esteem, distorted body image, and fear of gaining weight. It is common in adolescent girls.

– Bulimia- A condition where there is binge eating (overeating) and purging behavior afterwards. A bulimic person may use different methods such as vomiting or abuse use of laxative in order to remove all the food they consume.

  • Blood cell disorders

– Anemia or low red blood cell count

– Neutropenia- A condition wherein there is an abnormal low white blood cell count. Lithium can be used since it may increase production of WBC in the bone marrow.

  • Alcohol dependence
  • Epilepsy
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Kidney disorders
  • Liver diseases
  • Asthma
  • Grave’s disease
  • Tourette’s syndrome

Common side effects of Lithium?

Generally, Lithium is safe and poses fewer side effects if taken properly and regularly monitored by the healthcare provider. Lithium carbonate and Lithium citrate, in particular are the safest preparation that is available out there.  On the other hand, Lithium orotate should be avoided since there is not enough that can support that it is safe to use. Some of the mild side effects that could happen to anyone who takes Lithium are:

  • Dizziness
  • Mild nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Fine tremors
  • Itching of skin
  • Weight gain
  • Acne

Lithium levels in the blood should regularly be monitored through blood tests. It is important that Lithium levels are well-controlled because too much Lithium can be harmful for the body, and it can lead to condition called Lithium Toxicity. This is characterized by:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Tremors
  • Lack of coordination
  • Tremors
  • Tinnitus or ringing in the ears
  • Blurred vision

Other serious side effects include:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Polydipsia or extreme thirst
  • Muscle weakness
  • Syncope or fainting
  • Hallucinations
  • Frequent urination
  • Seizures
  • Abnormal heart rate

There are special precautions that anyone should take note of before taking Lithium. Here are the following conditions in which Lithium should be cautiously used:

  • Cardiovascular diseases- Can aggravate irregular rhythms
  • Surgery- Can change levels of serotonin in the brain, thus it might interfere with certain surgical procedures.
  • Kidney diseases- The kidneys are responsible in the removal of excess Lithium in the body. If you are suffering from kidney problems, the Lithium dose should be reduced.
  • Thyroid diseases- Lithium may worsen the some thyroid conditions.

Lithium side effects on children?

Children are the vulnerable group that may suffer from the side effects listed above. According to a study, children under seven years old who are treating with Lithium are at risk of developing some serious side effects. They have found out that children may suffer from CNS impairments due to Lithium treatment. The manifestations include slurred speech, loss of coordination, and confusion. Children may also experience weakening of bones due to treatment.

Lithium side effects on men?

Bipolar type I disorder or manic-depressive disorder is more frequent in men than women: therefore you would expect that men are prone to the side effects of Lithium. The symptoms that are more prevalent in men include hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH (common in older men), alopecia or thinning of hair, and dehydration.

Lithium side effects on women?

Nowadays, women have increased their incidence of having bipolar type II disorder. Meaning to say, there can also be a gradual increase of Lithium treatment in women. Women can also experience the same side effects listed above. But the more common side effects on women are weight gain, cardiac arrhythmias, and mild nausea.

Lithium side effects on pregnant women?

Lithium is highly dangerous to pregnant women since it can be harmful to the growing fetus. This can cause birth defects and heart problems. However, if Lithium treatment outweighs the risk that the fetus may have, it can be allowed to use as long as there is a proper monitoring of the Lithium levels.

Lithium side effects on elderly?

The elderly population mostly reported the following side effects:

  • Hand tremors
  • Increase thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Dry mouth
  • Tardive dyskinesia

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