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Lithium Uses

How Does the Medication Work?

Lithium is a naturally occurring element, like potassium or calcium. In the 1800s, scientists thought that it might be an effective treatment for gout, although lithium was found to be ineffective for this use. Later, in the 1940s, lithium was used as a salt substitute, until it was withdrawn from the market due to several deaths that were caused by lithium toxicity. Later, it was discovered that lithium works for mania. In 1970, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved lithium for the treatment of bipolar disorder.
The exact way in which lithium works to treat this condition is not known. It is thought that the drug may affect various chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters, which could explain the effectiveness of lithium in treating bipolar disorder. The drug is not a cure, however. It only helps to control symptoms.

Lithium Uses in Children

Lithium has not been approved for treating bipolar disorder in children under 12 years old. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of using the drug in children.

Off-Label Uses for Lithium

On occasion, your healthcare provider may recommend lithium for something other than bipolar disorder. This is called an "off-label" use. Examples of off-label lithium uses include treatment of the following conditions:
  • Agitation that is not associated with bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Graves' disease (a form of hyperthyroidism)
  • Migraine headaches or cluster headaches
  • Neutropenia (low levels of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell) that is caused by chemotherapy or other medications
  • Syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion (SIADH), a condition that affects sodium levels in the blood.
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