September 19, 2021

Lithium Side Effects

Lithium is a mood stabilizing drug that is commonly used to treat bipolar disorder, otherwise known as manic depression. The drug helps to control the manic phase of bipolar. Mania is characterized by periods of hyperactivity, bad decision making, aggression, and extended periods without sleep. Lithium is sometimes used in conjunction with other medicines to treat clinical depression or unipolar disorder. It is also used to help eliminate suicidal thoughts and symptoms in patients.

Lithium Side Effects

Lithium is a potent drug that alters the patient’s central nervous system by affecting the flow of sodium through the nerves and the cells of the muscles. It must be taken with great caution, and closely monitored by health care professionals. Lithium works as a diuretic in the body. It’s very important to take notice of the side effects. It’s crucial to periodically have blood levels checked to avoid toxicity. Before taking this medicine, it is imperative to know what it does to the body and the side effects that may occur.

If the following side effects occur, you may be experiencing toxicity and should call your doctor immediately:

– Blurred vision
– Muscle weakness
– Ringing in the ears
– Nausea
– Vomiting
– Diarrhea
– Drowsiness
– Uncoordination
– Tremor

Common Side Effects of Lithium

Some side effects are common when patients first begin taking lithium. Some of the effects, such as nausea and headache, can be eliminated by drinking more water. Drinking water is important because the medicine is dehydrating. Other side effects may eventually fade away in some patients but not others.

– Dazed and tired feeling
– Mild nausea or upset stomach
– Mild headache
– Loss or increase in appetite
– Hand tremor
– Hair loss
– Itchiness
– Weakness
– Weight gain
– Dehydration

Rare side effects

– Feeling light-headed or fainting
– Unusually slow or fast heart-rate or uneven beats
– Unquenchable thirst
– Twitching muscles in the eyes, jaws, neck or tongue
– Hallucinations
– Fever, muscle stiffness and sweating
– Seizures
– Feeling cold
– Frequent urination
– Body aches
– Discolored fingers and toes
– Vision problems or eye pain
– Restlessness or confusion
– Severe allergic reaction
– Swelling in ankles and wrists

Lithium and Pregnancy

Doctors usually don’t advise pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant to continue using lithium. The doctor will weigh the risks with the benefits when ultimately deciding on the best course to take. The risks for the fetus include birth defects, congenital abnormalties, goiters and still-birth. There is also risk of toxicity in the mother and baby. The FDA has assigned lithium to pregnancy category D, meaning it is highly incompatible with pregnancy. Sometimes doctors may decide to keep a pregnant patient on meticulously monitored doses of lithium when there are no other options or circumstances for the mother are dire. Lithium passes through breast milk and is not recommended for breastfeeding mothers.

When to Expect Changes

Lithium is administered in the form of tablets, capsules or syrup. The medicine takes up to three weeks to gain desired results, and is often combined with a tranquilizer in the first few weeks, while waiting for symptom improvements.

Important Information on Drug Interactions

There is an extensive list of medicines that should be avoided or closely monitored while taking lithium. The drugs are divided into three categories that classify the risks when combined with lithium. Drugs falling in the “major” category should be avoided and pose danger to patients. Drugs in the “moderate” category should usually be avoided but can be used in certain circumstances when closely monitored. Finally, drugs in the “minor” category pose minimal risks and can be used when closely monitored. Patients should discuss any medicines or supplements that they are taking with their physician.


Lithium has a high success rate in treating and stabilizing bipolar disorder. The side effects listed should be discussed with a healthcare professional, as well as any that are not listed. Communication with the prescribing doctor is vital to the patient’s overall success rate when using lithium.