Lithium

Lithium is commonly prescribed to treat bipolar disorder. Although this medication cannot cure the condition, it can help to control symptoms. Lithium is usually taken two to four times a day and comes in several forms, including regular tablets, extended-release tablets, capsules, and syrup. Commonly reported side effects include diarrhea, drowsiness, and nausea.

What Is Lithium?

Lithium (Eskalith®, Eskalith CR®, Lithobid®) is a prescription medication approved to treat bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression).
 
(Click Lithium Uses for more information, including possible off-label uses.)
 

Who Makes Lithium?

Lithium is made by a number of different manufacturers (see Generic Lithium).
 

How Does It Work?

Lithium is a naturally occurring element, like potassium or calcium. In the 1800s, scientists thought that lithium might be an effective treatment for gout, although it was found to be ineffective for this use. Later, in the 1940s, it was used as a salt substitute, until it was withdrawn from the market due to several deaths that were caused by lithium toxicity.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 the medication for the treatment of bipolar disorder.
 
The exact way in which the drug works to treat bipolar disorder is not known. Lithium may affect various chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters, which could explain the its effectiveness in treating bipolar disorder. The medication is not a cure for the condition, however -- it only helps to control symptoms (see Bipolar Disorder Symptoms).
 
Written by/reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD; Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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