Explains how lithium and other mood stabilising drugs work, how they might help you, whether to take them if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, and what alternative treatments are available.
Lithium is a mineral that occurs naturally in the environment. It can be prescribed in these forms, to be used as a mood stabiliser:
When you are first prescribed lithium, you should be given a purple lithium treatment pack. This pack should include:
You can find detailed information about this drug in the official Patient Information Leaflet (PIL). This includes information on the medication is for, how to take it, possible side effects and safety information.
This leaflet should come with your medication, usually inside the box. Or you can download a PDF version of the PIL for your medication:
Some drugs come in different forms, such as tablets or liquid. There may be a separate PIL for each form of the drug, as well as for different doses. You should look at the PIL for the form and dose you have been prescribed.
You can also search these websites for your specific drug to find further information and PILs:
If you have any questions about your medication you can:
If you experience any side effects from your drug, you can report them to the MHRA via their Yellow Card scheme. This scheme allows the MHRA to collect information about which drugs cause which side effects and how common they are. This lets drug manufacturers give more accurate information about their medication.
When you are prescribed lithium, the healthcare professional who prescribes it should explain how to take it safely. This includes letting you know its benefits, risks and side effects. They should also explain what the signs are if you take too much.
This information explains some things that you can do to make sure that the level of lithium in your blood remains steady, within a certain range. If your lithium level drops too low, then the treatment probably won't work for you. If it rises too high it can become very dangerous, and could potentially be fatal.
The information below explains how to:
It's also important that you:
The dose of lithium that you are prescribed will be personal to you, depending on several factors. These include:
If you have questions about your dose, speak to your doctor or the healthcare professional who prescribes you lithium. This includes questions about what to do if you miss a dose.
The amount of salt and water in your body can affect your lithium level, so you'll need to manage your salt and liquid levels carefully.
These are some ways to keep your fluid levels steady:
These are some ways to keep your salt level steady:
Regular blood tests are important because they monitor the amount of lithium in your blood. This helps to make sure your dose is low enough to be safe, but also high enough that the treatment works.
You might hear this test called:
You should wait 12 hours after a dose before having a blood test, otherwise the reading might not be accurate. If you aren’t sure whether this is possible, for example if you take lithium twice a day, speak to your doctor about managing your doses.
How often you should have a blood test depends upon where you are in your treatment:
Your doctor may also ask for a blood level check if there are signs that your bipolar disorder is returning. This is to check if your lithium level is too low. Or they may ask for a blood level check if you start experiencing more unpleasant side effects. This is to check if your lithium level is too high.
Our pages on lithium and other mood stabilisers have more information about this type of medication. This includes how they work and how they might help you. It also covers how they might affect you if you are pregnant, their withdrawal effects and alternative treatment options.
These pages may also help:
This information was published in June 2020. We will revise it in 2023.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.