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Lithium is a chemical element found in nature. It is also sometimes used as a medicine to treat certain mental illnesses. For some people, lithium is a very effective treatment. Your doctor is the best person to decide if lithium is the right treatment for you.

Why might I be prescribed lithium?

Lithium is used to treat bipolar disorder, and is used for acute mania (highs) and longer-term mood stabilisation.

It's also used in treating some types of depression, schizophrenia, disorders of impulse control and some other types of mental illness.

If you have one of these mental illnesses, your doctor will decide if medication is the right treatment for you. Lithium is one option, but there are others.

Search for a doctor in your location.

How lithium works

Lithium works by decreasing abnormal activity in the brain. Once you start taking lithium, it can take 1-3 weeks or longer to start working.

Benefits of lithium

Lithium helps reduce the severity and frequency of mania. It may also help to treat bipolar depression.

If you have been at risk of suicide, lithium may help reduce these feelings. Lithium also helps prevent manic and depressive episodes occurring in the future. Therefore, your doctor may prescribe it over long periods of time to prevent relapse.

Important things to remember when taking lithium

  • Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have any allergies.
  • If you are taking diuretics (water pills), tell your doctor as these may need to be carefully monitored.
  • Tell your doctor about other medicines, supplements or complementary medicines you are taking as they may interact with lithium.
  • If you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or breastfeeding tell your doctor straight away. Lithium may cause harm to a fetus.
  • Tell your doctor first if you have any heart or kidney problems.
  • Lithium can cause drowsiness, so it is important to consider this if driving or operating heavy machinery.

See healthdirect's medicines section for more information about lithium.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2018

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