Lithium is an element similar to sodium that has traditionally been used as a mood stabilizer. Historically, it was approved for use in the United States to treat bipolar disorder. Like other mood altering medications, lithium alters both the production and uptake of certain neurotransmitters. It is a member of the group of 1A alkaline metals on the periodic table. Lithium is rapidly absorbed into the body, but the blood-brain barrier slows the progress of lithium. No one knows exactly why lithium is so successful in the treatment of bipolar disorder, but it remains a staple for certain patients who do not respond to other medications.
Lithium is used to treat bipolar disorder, depression, manic episodes, schizoaffective disorders and schizophrenia. Lithium has also been used to treat aggressive outbursts in patients suffering from schizophrenia as well as those patients who engage in self-mutilation. Lithium has, for many patients, been more successful in maintaining stability and reducing suicidal ideation than other antipsychotic medications. It has also been used as an off-label treatment for PTSD.
There are specific side effects that often accompany the use of lithium, but these can be managed with proper monitoring.
- Lack of spontaneity
- Weight gain
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
- Impaired memory
- Frequent urination
- Liver damage
- Thyroid problems
The primary concern of lithium withdrawal is a relapse of the mood disorder symptoms. The side effects associated with lithium will dissipate when lithium use is stopped.
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