LithiumReturn to Lithium overview
Changing medication can be scary, especially when you don't know what the consequences will be
Lithium can be used to treat the following conditions
Headmeds fills the medicines information gaps for young people - things you might want to know about meds like will it affect my sex life? Can I still study? Can I drink?
Headmeds does not give medical advice so this is just general information.
Each medicine has a balance of good and bad effects, and each person gets their own individual effects.
You might want to know just one thing about your medicine, but on each page we have given you the ‘safety headlines’. Please read them as they are important.
We have included lots of information about each medicine - but if you want all the details, please look at the patient information leaflet - which is inside every pack. These leaflets are also at www.medicines.org.uk - where there will be the most up-to-date information.
- If you have taken more lithium than it said on the label, you must see a doctor quickly – even if you do not feel any different.
- Lithium can cause serious side effects, including allergic reactions (difficulty breathing, swelling of your face or throat, itching skin lumps) and lithium toxicity (when the level of lithium in your body becomes too high.
- Do not take anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen or naproxen – which you can buy or get on prescription – while you are taking lithium.
- You might feel sleepy or dizzy in the first few days after taking lithium – do not drive a car, ride a bike or operate machines until you see how this affects you.
- If you take lithium while you are pregnant, it may affect the developing baby. Use good contraception while you are taking lithium. It can also cause symptoms in newborn babies if you take it at the end of pregnancy. Talk to your doctor or midwife about this and get their help.
- You need regular blood tests whilst you are on lithium to measure the level of lithium in your blood. If the lithium level is too low, then the lithium may not work. However, if the lithium level becomes too high, then this can result in lithium toxicity, which is dangerous.
- Make sure you stay hydrated whilst you are taking lithium. If you become dehydrated whilst you are taking lithium, then there is a risk of the lithium level becoming too high.
- Make sure you do not make large changes to the amount of salt (sodium) in your diet without consulting your doctor first. Having more salt in your diet than usual can make the lithium level become too low. However, you must not go on a low-salt diet without close monitoring because this could make the lithium level become too high.
- It is best to avoid drinking more than one or two alcoholic drinks per day whilst you are on lithium. This is because alcohol can make you dehydrated, which results in the lithium level becoming too high. Also, drinking alcohol whilst on lithium could make you drowsy.
- Avoid changing your caffeine intake whilst taking lithium without consulting your doctor first. Having a higher caffeine intake can make your lithium level lower, and cutting down your caffeine intake could make the lithium level higher.
- You will also need regular blood tests to check on your kidneys, thyroid gland, and calcium level, because these can sometimes be affected by lithium.
The information on this site for lithium is not the same as for the other medicines.
Lithium is a medicine where it is very important to have a good relationship with your doctor and care team to make sure you get the best from it.
There is a really good and clear patient information booklet from the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) that will help you with the practical bits of taking lithium. This booklet should be given to you by your doctor or someone from your care team but is also available to download and print off at https://www.sps.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/2009-NRLS-0921-Lithium-patientet-2009.12.01-v1.pdf. A lithium treatment pack should be available from your doctor or pharmacist.
On this website we will concentrate on how lithium might affect your everyday life.
Lithium has two forms – lithium carbonate and lithium citrate
- Lithium is used as two salts – lithium carbonate and lithium citrate
- Each lithium salt works equally well, but the dose of lithium depends on which salt is prescribed
- It is important to stick to the same brand when you are on lithium, so that a stable amount of lithium is in your body
Lithium as a mood stabiliser medicine
Lithium can be used to help a range of mental health conditions. Lithium helps to keep your mood from becoming too low or too high, which is why it is classed as a mood stabiliser medicine
Lithium works to reduce the number and severity of relapses
- We don’t know exactly how lithium works, but research shows it can help treat the range of conditions listed above.
- In bipolar affective disorder, it can reduce both the number and severity of relapses.
- Lithium can help prevent both manic and depressive relapses, but is a bit better at preventing manic relapses.
- Lithium can help keep you mentally well. It is really important that you take your lithium doses consistently because this will give you the best chance of staying well.
Lithium as an antidepressant ‘assistant’ medicine
Lithium can also be added to an antidepressant to boost the antidepressant effect. Here lithium is helping an antidepressant that has helped in part to do the rest of the job of getting you well.
Whatever the reason for taking lithium the same rules apply to getting the best from it.
You need to have regular blood tests when you take lithium
- You need to keep the amount of lithium in your blood at the right level.
- If the level is too low, lithium will not work properly.
- If the level is too high, you will feel very unwell. This is called lithium toxicity.
- You will have at least one blood test about a week after starting lithium, to check the level is right to start with.
- You will have another blood test to check your lithium level every 3 to 6 months.
Search www.medicines.org.uk to find patient information leaflets and prescribing information on lithium. Tablets are lithium carbonate and liquid is lithium citrate. The SmPC lists all the inactive ingredients in the product so you can check against any allergies. If you are still unsure about this then speak to your pharmacist.
- British National Formulary (BNF) and British National Formulary for children. Download the BNF/BNFC app (blue background) on to your mobile device. No longer available for public access via the web
- Taylor D, Barnes T, Young A. Maudsley Prescribing Guidelines in Psychiatry, 13th edition. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, May 2018. ISBN: 978-1-119-44260-8
- Royal Pharmaceutical Society. Medicines Ethics and Practice (42nd edition). London: RPS, 2018. Standards for pharmacists to work to. It is not a free publication
- World Anti Doping Agency WADA Prohibited List https://www.wada-ama.org/en/resources/science-medicine/prohibited-list-documents
- Choiceandmedication; an independent source of information on many mental health conditions and their medicines with easy to read fact sheets www.choiceandmedication.org Personal subscriptions to download the app available for £1 per month (with proportionate discounts for longer periods) but your local mental health Trust may subscribe and provide information sheets for free.
- Best Use of Medicines in Pregnancy (BUMPS). Information sheets on drugs in pregnancy http://www.medicinesinpregnancy.org/
- Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). Information on drugs in breastfeeding https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/newtoxnet/lactmed.htm