74 thoughts on “Bipolar Medication Spotlight: Lithium

  • February 21, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    I am almost 25 years old and I have been taking lithium for close to two years. I was diagnosed with bipolar about three years ago and it took forever to find a medication that worked for me. I have tried about eight differenent medications in three years. Lithium has been the only one that did not make me sleepy or gain weight. However, I may be one of those people who are in denial but I feel that I have been diagnosed for something that I do not have. When I went to the doctor I went for being tired and restless all the time. Yeah and I am a woman so yeah I get complicated sometimes. However, I do not feel like that makes me bipolar. My husband is the only one who agrees with that. Lithium has many side effects that I dont want if I dont even need the medication. I am looking for a way to wing myself off of it. Does anyone know how to? I feel like ever sincce I started it, I am ditzy because I just cant think straight anymore. I shake so much I am embarrassed to go in public. Im not giving lithium bad feedback because it has seemed to help me a little. I am just scared for my well-being. I am too young to have to worry about kidney damage.

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  • April 29, 2010 at 10:07 am

    My son has taken Lithium to manage his bipolar disorder for almost two years. It has been very effective in helping him to manage his symptoms however, he developed chronic acne. He never had an acne problem before the Lithium. Is acne a side effect of Lithium & is there an effective treatment for it?

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  • July 29, 2010 at 11:44 am

    I’ve been on 900 mg of lithium for about a year now. I have bi polar 1 and it has worked wonderfully. My grandmother passed away about 6 weeks ago and i can’t get out of this funk. I feel down and sad all the time and am afraid it’s going to get worse. Does lithium stop working or do I need a higher does?

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  • July 29, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Hi Tina – I am sorry to hear about your grandmother. When people are going through grief reactions as you are, it looks and feels and smells just like major depression. The difference is that it will resolve – with some time – it is a normal human brain process. However, in people with mood disorders, grief can trigger a full blown mood episode – more often depression but sometime mania as well. It is important that you be in touch with your doctor and therapist to discuss your grief reaction and determine if you need to be adjusting your meds in anyway during this time – and you may want to start or increase therapy sessions for some time while you are grieving.
    Take good care –

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  • July 30, 2010 at 6:19 am

    I have been on lithium since 2006. I take 900 mg. at bedtime. Long story why, but I have been off my meds (and I take a lot of psych meds) since February and since I’m on Medicare it’s been hell getting a dr. At a family clinic I did see a psych nurse practitioner and she made me, my husband, and my mom choose which two meds I should start back on first. While we differed in some areas, we all said I should start taking lithium asap. The few psych drs. or nurse practitioners I have talked to have all said they would never prescribe lithium unless they had to, although one admitted it was because he was lazy about the regular blood tests.
    Lithium has helped more than anything else, and the only side effect I have is some trembling in my hands. I make sure to carry electrolytes when it’s hot. The hand-trembling doesn’t even matter anymore because when I get back on Abilify, I expect trembling to increase considerably. Small price to pay, though, to be stable. We all picked lithium over my antidepressants because it helps mood swings–which make you feel out of control–and some of the anxiety and depression as well. I’m lucky my dr. at the psych unit when I was diagnosed started me on lithium. It’s great.

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  • November 24, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    I am a lithium toxicity survivor.

    From around Dec. 15, 2008-Jan.30, 2009…I was in the Nashville VA Hospital with toxicity/Feb. 1 2009-Feb. 28, 2009 at Centennial Hospital with damaged trachea, and blood clots.

    death—three times some heart related and some respiratory related,
    dyalisis—5 days,
    delirium—every waking moment,
    neuroleptic malignant syndrome—5 days,
    restrained—almost the whole time,
    intibated—5 times,
    self-extubated, w/out deflation—3 times,
    damage to trachea—removal of three rings worth of damaged trachea scar on neck is priceless,
    self-removal of picc line right arm—2 times resulting in blood clots in right arm, pulminary artery, and p/e in right lung, currently still on blood thinner,
    respiratory failure—so often that i was seconds away from getting a tracheostomy
    weight loss—<50lbs
    sanity—still not sure
    death experiences—3 still remember them as if they just happened no lighted tunnel i had to earn my life each time,
    years my parents aged during ordeal—unfathomable
    how i know "death" is near—the hairs on the back of my neck tingle,
    what "death" looks like to me: as oft i saw it, it appeared as the road does while your driving in the heat…that illusion of water flowing, or when you see petrol evaporate, the way it distorts the image behind it…whenever i saw it, that is what it looked and felt like.

    This is the first time writing about my experience…kind of feels odd. Very good though, getting it out. I am happy to be alive, but very very humble to the point of similarity to being afraid. Would like to make and wear t-shirt that reads "I SURVIVED LITHIUM TOXCICITY", but not sure what decorum calls for. Thank you for taking the time to read my note…therapy69_1999@yahoo.com

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  • February 11, 2011 at 12:26 am

    I am 35 years old. Diagnosed with BP at 23. For the last 12 years, I have played a dangerous game of med non-compliance. I have been on every BP med known to man – and as soon as I felt stable I went off. The “reason” I went off almost every time was the weight gain issue

    The positives – I stayed on long enough to get myself through law school and buy a house and more or less be there for my kids.

    The negatives of being unmedicated – lost a marriage, ruined credit, gambled away all of my money, developed cocaine addiction, ended up in psych ward four times and ended up in rehab twice.

    Currently, I am clean, on meds, and my life has never looked brighter. Going on 10 months now – on Depakote and Lithium. I gained 60 pounds BUT I am a sane member of society.

    Please learn from my mistakes and stay on your meds if you are bi-polar,

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  • March 11, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    I have bipolar disorder and ADD. I guess. I still struggle with trying to understand the nature of this low and overwhelmingly intense quality of life that has haunted me for the last 12 years.What is in my control? Biological/Psychological(I can work through it? Will it?)Nutritional/Cognitive/Spiritual…etc I know it is(and we/humans in general are)complicated and multi-leveled. Also there are Pharmaceutical companies preying on people, and over diagnosis etc… I am well aware. All the BUT’s stopped me from taking medication for around a decade. But at this point I’m tired. Trying to keep up with bipolar disorder is exhausting. My cognitive resources are constantly exhausted themselves.My relationships are stained. And worst of all I don’t trust myself anymore. Especially my emotions. I can’t predict or plan anything, because it is hit or miss with me.I’m 28yrs now and have just in the last three years agreed to try medications. It has been a mess. You want to talk side-effects!!!!! I have a sensitive system and I cycle rapidly with mixed episodes. I have tried Lamictal, Klonopin, Zoloft,Risperidone, Seroquel, Abilify, Geodone, Zyprexa, Wellbutrin, and Depakote is the latest(I’m sure I’ve missed at least one). It worked wonders for 6 months,and no noticeable side-effects except for good old bipolar symptoms reemergence. Now I am weening off the Depakote and finally agreed to try Lithium. It is too soon to tell, but… Despite the fact that I am still a skeptic of medication and diagnosis, I have reached my limit. With the frantic spinning(that’s the only way I can describe it) I experience in my thoughts, mood and body and the damage it does to me on a personal and interpersonal level it was time. I can take an hour out of my day to get blood work done. Compared with the years of life this chaotic companion has stolen, what’s an hour now and then to give me a life…I can hardly imagine, but I am completely open to what’s out there… Medication included. If that is what will/could work for now…down the road…who knows…I’m always keeping my options open.

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    • March 1, 2013 at 8:21 pm

      “But at this point I’m tired. Trying to keep up with bipolar disorder is exhausting. My cognitive resources are constantly exhausted themselves.My relationships are stained. And worst of all I don’t trust myself anymore. Especially my emotions. I can’t predict or plan anything, because it is hit or miss with me.”

      Excellent comment, Ideally, thank you for sharing it. I feel exactly the same way as the quote above. I’m starting Lithium just took one dose-150 mgs last night, will double that in a week and so on. I’ve been in bed for a year, had to stop working, I’m exhausted. My brain is exhausted. The fight is gone and I know how to do will power. For me, there’s no point in trying because everything collapses after a short while and I’m to the point now where I can’t even try anymore. I can’t even try. I’m too exhausted and ill. So I’ve started Lithium. I pray to God it helps me and doesn’t just ruin my thyroid and kidneys. I’m at the point of wishing I would die now. If this doesn’t work I’ve had it.

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  • March 18, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    Ideally – I also am an ultra rapid cycler and my moods are mixed when I have episodes. Oh how they suck…Right now I am at 1200mg a day for lithium carbonate XR. This is probably the best I have felt in 6 months. Weight gain? Yes… 10lbs. in one month…But I’ll deal with that rather than cycling rapidly every day for months on end. EXHAUSTING AND SCARY. I had some thirst when first starting lithium, but that went away. No hand tremors. Weight gain is my only complaint so far.

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  • March 26, 2011 at 2:02 am

    Joe (his wife)& anyone else who was DX BP after being on anti-depressants. Are you sure BP is the right Dx? Anti-depressants often cause mania, so do many other kinds of drugs, but one is only atomaticly given a DX of BP if it happens with anti-depressants. However if you become manic after taking any of the other medications, the drug is stoped, and you are not told or given a DX of BP. If someone labels you BP after a anti-depresant I would not trust it. I was and then stepped onto a merry-go-round of appalling medication over prescribed and often counter indicated, my quality of life was zero. I refused to take any more anti-depresants and never had an episode of mania. I’ve been off all drugs for a bit over 4 years and remain fine except for my PTSD. I beleive BIG PHARM has created a false positive stating that if you become manic on a anti-depressant you are BP. I don’t beleive that. It’s just a gimmic to keep people on dangerous drugs, and greed at the cost of human quality of life and sometimes human death. But does that matter to BIG PHARM, nope. They need to stay out of Dr’s offices and hospitals and not be allowed to sponcer conventions for Dr’s.

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    • March 26, 2011 at 6:04 am

      Hi, Anne–

      You may find a previous post on Bipolar Beat of interest: “Bipolar Disorder QA: SSRI Induced or True Bipolar?” Although I believe that SSRI antidepressants contributed to the onset of my wife’s bipolar, I no longer think that simply stopping the antidepressant will make it go away. Believe me, we tried.

      Having said that, I tend to agree with you generally about antidepressants, including the SSRI variety. It almost becomes a predictable pattern: Patient sees doctor for depression, doctor prescribes antidepressant, patient becomes manic, doctor diagnoses bipolar disorder and prescribes a lifetime regimen of a mood stabilizer + antidepressant. I have heard the story again and again.

      This is why it is so important for doctors to 1) Carefully screen for a family history of bipolar (something my wife had in her family history) and for any symptoms of past mania or hypomania and 2) Rule out the possibility of medication-induced mania if the first signs of mania or hypomania occur directly after a medication change, especially related to an antidepressant, or to some incident or history of substance abuse.

      While I share your distrust of Big Pharama, I think demonizing them or doctors isn’t helpful. We did a post awhile back entitled “Big Pharma: Generous Freebies or Underhanded Bribes?” which you may also find of interest, and Dr. Fink has posted repeatedly on her concerns about the overdiagnosis of bipolar in children. She is not afraid to take stands against popular thinking or medical practices, but she is a consummate scientist, basing her views and recommendations on what she deems the most reliable scientific research currently available. Because of this, I trust and respect her opinion more than most p-docs.

      A huge dilemma is that depression is very painful and that all antidepressants, as I understand it, can “trigger” mania. Unfortunately, we don’t have a perfect drug for depression that treats it very effectively in all people without the risk of potential negative side effects. Personally, I think SSRI’s are the worst of the bunch in this respect, although Dr. Fink informs me that the current research shows less of connection than some may believe based on other studies and anecdotal evidence.

      I think we need to take a fair and balanced approach, rely on the best treatments available at this time, and hope that research uncovers better treatments in the future — both for bipolar and depression. Doctors also need to be more careful, as explained earlier, to screen for potential bipolar before prescribing antidepressants and to rule out medication-induced mania when the first signs of mania appear while taking an antidepressant.

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  • September 3, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    My mother has been on lithium for over 20 years. Lithium has worked so well for her, but…. Lithium gave her diabetes insepidus, hypothyrodism, high blood pressure, and now her para-thyroid is messed up. She had lithium toxicity about 2 years ago and almost died. She just recently was diagnosed with cancer. While at the hospital we discovered a couple of these issues and they took her off lithium. It is so sad because all the other medicines they are trying her on is not working.

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  • June 22, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Would love feedback on my lastest post on litihtium near-fatal acceidental overdose.

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    • June 25, 2013 at 6:06 pm

      Holy Smokes!! I had a NDE from acute liver failure. I am very interested in what your experiences were. It is a hard thing to talk about with people because it’s so hard to describe and they haven’t been through it. It’s two years later and I am having severe problems with depression and anxiety so I was researching lithium orate sp? I have had horrible flashbacks since this happened and I am looking for something to help me WITHOUT hurting me. It looks like I need to just level with my doc about how hard a time I am having. Thanks for posting.

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  • July 13, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    I have been taking lithium carbonate for over 10 years and it is the only thing that keeps me sane and functioning. I take it with prozac and I am a mess if I have to go without it. For me it is a miracle.

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  • September 6, 2012 at 10:10 am

    I have been taking Lithium for 25 yrs and have always had regular blood tests always following the doctors orders. I have developed Lithium toxicity and have damaged my kidneys. I am coming off Lithium gradually. I am confused about what to take as everything seems to have side effects that are very off putting.
    Maybe someone has some suggestions. I have bi Polar with psychotic episodes.
    Thank you.

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  • September 23, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Crysta, someone here mentioned Lamictal for bipolar. No or few side effects. Invega is great for the psychosis.

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  • March 1, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    To all those people who go on and on what a poisonous nightmare Lithium is, I hope you realize that for some us it’s a last hope. I hope you understand the effect your comments have on someone who’s struggled on and on for decades and can’t fight anymore and is deciding on Lithium as a last chance. If a person isn’t leaving their bedroom for a year, feels unbearable constantly, has no life, no friends, no job, really nothing to lose, I hope you’re proud of yourselves for posting about the HORRORS OF LITHIUM.

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  • August 10, 2013 at 2:37 am

    I have been taking Lithium Carbonate for 10 years and it works good for my bipolar I. My blood tests come back fine. I tried some other meds but the side effects were worse for me. I feel pretty normal with no side effects. I did recently add 5-HDP from Costco and my anxiety is totally gone. Lamictal works good for me as well but I can’t take it because I get headaches. Marijauna is legal in my state and I use that several times a year when I can’t go to sleep.

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  • October 3, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Lithium is the one medication that finally gave me my life back. After 3 years, one hospital in patient, one out patient, many manic and depressiin episodes with rapid cycling in between and thoughts of suicide (regurlarly), lithium has been the one and only that has tamed all of that for me. I do know the risks and I will eventually stop but right now it has provided some much needed normalcy for my wife and I. My wife, I must say, could not be more supportive!!! I just don’t want to put her through anymore bipolar hell…. she deserves more… and I think I do too. It is nice not to be stuck in my own head with the worry and doubt and I can live free without the fear of when the next cycle will hit.

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  • August 11, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    I was prescribed only a week ago Lithium to treat bi-polar disorder, i have already gained 8lb and with already being overweight, and struggling to loose a few pounds, i am finding my extra weight very uncomfortable and hugely embarrasing! I have kept a diary of my daily food intake and if anything, i am eating much healthier and no where near the amount of ‘junk food’ i binge on.
    Is there anything other than the usual ‘eat healthy’ and ‘excersice’ that i can do to stop my ever growing flab?

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  • September 14, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Hello I was prescribed. Lithium in 2010 after I had my daughter first child. So of course I was going to have the postpartum blues when to my doctors appt for me to get on birth control and they ended up asking me questions following how I felt and I was given to take lithium I didn’t like the effects of it its made me quiet and just not there and it gave me nightmares that was the worst part but I stopped taking it 3 yrs ago

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  • January 30, 2015 at 10:30 am

    I have been taking lithium since September of 2014 approximately.

    It seems to be working well for my bipolar but the brain fog is going to make me lose my job! HR had me in there and said it seemed like I was distracted in class (i am a teacher).

    I feel like I cannot focus!

    I don’t know what to do! Do I tell my job about the bipolar and that the meds are making me spacey? Do I get off the lithium and try yet another drug and go through the trial and all that – that could have me doing poorly at my job too? Do I ask my psych for a drug that may make it easier for me to concentrate (add drugs? any other drugs? suggestions)

    I also feel like the lithium has made me hungrier! therefore I have gained a few pounds!

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