Family doctor



LITHIUM - a patient's guide


Lithium is a drug used to treat mental illnesses such as manic depression (bipolar disorder). This article outlines the medication and its side effects.

Brand names:

Lithicarb, Priadel


Antidepressant, prevention of recurrent illness in manic-depression.

Lithium is used to stabilise mood, preventing manic episodes in patients with manic-depressive illness, (Bipolar disorder).

It is also used to treat depression (often in combination with other medication) when other medication alone has been ineffective.


  • In patients with heart or thyroid disease.
  • Kidney disease or impairment (regular monitoring needed)
  • Patients receiving diuretic treatment.
  • Elderly patients.
  • Pregnancy and breast feeding

Side effects:

  • Stomach upset, nausea, diarrhoea.
  • Hand tremors and weakness.
  • Weight gain and a bloated feeling, also possible anorexia
  • Metallic taste in the mouth.
  • Excessive thirst and an increase in urine frequency
  • Skin rash
  • Muscle twitching
  • Gum enlargement
  • Unsteady movement
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Loss of consciousness and seizures.


ACE inhibitors, analgesics (eg ibuprofen), diuretics, and some steroids can increase lithium levels and cause toxicity.

Phenytoin, Carbamazepine, Metronidazole and Spectinomycin may cause lithium toxicity.

Other medicines which may effect lithium include, theophylline, metoclopramide, domperidone, sumatriptan and some muscle relaxants.

You should always tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking this medication before starting taking any new medication, as they are trained to identify any possible interactions

Patient Information:

  • Seek advice promptly if you have another illness, as side effects are more common during other illnesses
  • Follow instructions carefully on the label of the medicine
  • Do not stop taking this medicine unless instructed to by your doctor
  • Take after food, at the same time each day
  • Drink lots of water and avoid sudden changes in diet.
  • See your doctor immediately if severe side effects occur
  • Speak to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new medication while on lithium.

See also:

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