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Lithium

Lithium "LITH-ee-um" is a mood stabiliser and can be used for mania or bipolar disorder

This page will give you general information about lithium. It is not medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about your situation and whether this medication is for you.

What's it for?

Lithium is licensed to treat the following conditions:

Name: Lithium, "LITH-ee-um"

Other names: Priadel® "PRI--a-del", Liskonum® "LIS-ko-num”, Camcolit® "CAM-col-it"

Medication type: Mood stabiliser

What can it be used for?
If you are 18 or over, the doctor can prescribe lithium carbonate or lithium citrate for you as a licensed medicine for mania, bipolar disorder, as an extra treatment for low mood (depression) that has been difficult to treat, or for aggression and self-harming behaviour.

If you are 12 or over, the doctor can prescribe lithium carbonate for you as a licensed medicine for mania, bipolar disorder, as an extra treatment for low mood (depression) that has been difficult to treat, or for aggression and self-harming behaviour. Manufacturers of lithium citrate have not done the research required in young people to obtain a licence. Even so, specialists might prescribe it ‘off-label’ if they believe it is the best medicine for you, especially if a liquid medicine would suit you better.

Ways to take it

Tablets: Lithium carbonate is the ingredient in tablets under the brands Priadel™, Liskonum™ or Camcolit™

Liquids: Lithium citrate is the ingredient in liquids under the brands Priadel™ or Li-Liquid™

There is a 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

How it works

What does lithium do?

Lithium helps to keep your mood from becoming too low or too high, which is why it is classed as a mood stabiliser.

In bipolar affective disorder, lithium can reduce both the number and severity of relapses (it is a little better at preventing manic relapses than depressive relapses).

Lithium can also be added to an antidepressant to boost the antidepressant effect.

It’s very important to have a good relationship with your doctor and care team to get the best from taking lithium.

A lithium treatment pack should be available from your doctor or pharmacist.

Lithium comes in the form of 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 best to stick to the same brand when you are on lithium, so that the amount in your body remains stable.

Taking lithium

What if I miss a dose?

If you realise that you have forgotten to take a dose, take it as soon as possible unless it is getting close to your next dose.

If you remember later during the day, take it as soon as possible as long as it at least ten hours to your next dose.

If you forget to take it by the time of the next dose, just take the next dose. Do not take a double dose.

Stopping the use of lithium

It is very important that you do not stop taking your lithium suddenly. This is because your symptoms may come back. If this happens, they will be harder to get back under control again.

Research shows that if you are taking lithium for bipolar disorder and you stop taking it suddenly (i.e. over the course of less than 14 days), then you have a 50% (one in two) chance of becoming ill again within six months and a 90% (nine in ten) chance of becoming unwell again within three years.

If you need to stop taking lithium, it is best for you to come off it gradually, over at least four weeks, but preferably over three to six months. Gradually reducing the dose will make it less likely that your symptoms come back (compared to stopping the lithium quickly).

If you are thinking of stopping taking lithium, then you should discuss this with your doctor.

If your lithium level is too high, then you may need to stop taking your lithium for a few days, then start taking it again at a lower dose.

Lithium is not addictive. You will not have cravings for lithium if you stop taking it, and you cannot get ‘hooked’ on lithium.

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