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 more detailed information about this drug in the official Patient Information Leaflet (PIL), including what it's for, how to take it, possible side effects and important safety information. This leaflet should come with your medication (usually inside the box). You can also access it online as a PDF via these links:
If a drug can come in different forms (such as tablets or liquid), there may be a separate PIL for each one. You should look at the PIL for the particular form and dose you've been prescribed. Many PILs are available online on the MHRA Products website.
If you have any questions about your medication you can:
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.
This information was published in June 2020. We will revise it in 2023.
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