Lithium bipolar treatment is still the most researched and proven medication for bipolar.
So why is it prescribed less and less?
Is lithium simply a fashion victim? Should it continue to be regarded as the first-line treatment for Bipolar Disorder I? Does it even have a place as "first amongst equals"?
What should the informed consumer know about lithium for bipolar?
There is a lot of mystique around lithium, but in reality it is a natural salt - a simple mineral. It is ironic that so many folks resist taking lithium, insisting they want a "natural" approach. Lithium is actually as natural as it gets - it just happens to be one of the most effective bipolar medications.
It is important to understand that even today (almost 2011), there are just 3 bipolar medications that are approved by the FDA as PROVEN MOOD STABILIZERS:
2. Lamictal (lamotrigine - an anticonvulsant developed to treat epilepsy)
3. Zyprexa (olanzapine - an "atypical" anti-psychotic developed to treat schizophrenia)
All three of these bipolar medications are known to have significant side effects (some people are affected way more than others), and NONE OT THE THREE are strongly effective against BOTH mania AND depression.
Throughout this site there is a lot of emphasis on using effective EFFECTIVE MOOD STABILIZERS because bipolar disorder is first and foremost the MOOD SWINGS disease. Therefore, we feel bipolar medications must help you maintain a stable mood over an extended time period to qualify as effective treatments.
Unlike many bipolar medications, it is very cheap.
I buy my lithium at Walmart for just over $4 a month.
This is because it isn't patented and can be bought as a generic.
In the US, the FDA has approved lithium for treating:
1. Manic episodes
2. Maintenance treatment in Bipolar Disorder.
The value of lithium medication in treating bipolar disorder was discovered by the Australian psychiatrist Dr John Cade, who first published his findings on lithium bipolar treatment in the scientific literature in 1949.
This was the FIRST TIME a mental health disorder could be effectively by a medication, replacing electro-shock therapy and lobotomies.
Lithium bipolar treatment was first approved in the US by the FDA in 1970. NO OTHER medications has anything like this track record!
However, there are two major drawbacks to using lithium medication:
(1) According to Consumer Reports and the British Medical Journal: "It's not clear whether lithium can help depression in bipolar disorder." This means lithium may need to be used in conjunction with another medication that can help more in treating depression.
(2) Lithium has serious side effects and requires regular blood testing, making it an extremely "high maintenance" drug if the correct blood level of lithium cannot be found and maintained.
"Maintenance therapy reduces the frequency of manic episodes and diminishes the intensity of those episodes which may occur."</i>FDA quoted on Drugs.com
One of the most troubling side effects of lithium is weight gain. In fact, it is a major problem with virtually ALL the bipolar medications.
Discover how I stuck to my lithium bipolar treatment while losing over 40 pounds and unlocking the secrets of mood, food and weight:
New bipolar medications such as the latest generation of anti-psychotics have become popular with doctors and consumerism often in combination with more traditional mood stabilizers, anti-convulsants, and antidepressants.
However, the following authorities still include lithium bipolar treatment as the first-line medication for bipolar disorder:
1. The American Psychiatric Association's Guidelines (although these are due for an update and also suggest use of Depakote, Lamictal and Zyprexa in various combinations)
2. Expert Consensus Guidelines
3. The Texas Medication Algorithm Project (TMAP).
Note: All the guidelines differentiate between manic, mixed, and depressive episodes, and acute episodes. Lithium is NOT the first-line treatment in all circumstances, especially not for depressive episodes.
"If you take lithium, you are much less likely to have a relapse of bipolar disorder. It works as well as valproate, carbamazepine, or lamotrigine for preventing a relapse. But it seems to be better at preventing new symptoms of mania than at preventing new symptoms of depression."
Dr Jim Phelps suggests that lithium bipolar treatment could be a good choice for a patient under these circumstances:
1. "Classic bipolar I symptom pattern: euphoric mania and severe depressions"
2. "Significant manic symptoms"
3. "Need all the antidepressant you can get"
4. "Suicide risk is a concern"
5. "Very inexpensive".
Dr Phelps also emphasizes the neuro-protective advantages of using lithium, and the trend towards low dose lithium treatment which minimizes most side effects in most cases.
In terms of side effects, some lithium medication side effects often go away after a short time. These include nausea, cognitive dulling, sleepiness, dizziness, acne, decreased libido, and dry mouth.
Other side effects tend to stick around and can be problematic. For example, constant or extreme thirst, frequent urination, weight gain, and tremors.
The biggest risk with lithium bipolar treatment is when blood levels are not monitored closely enough or a patient has tow tolerance.
Lithium toxicity can result.
Lithium toxicity can result in renal failure and death. Symptoms include:
1. Persistent diarrhea. 2. Vomiting or severe nausea. 3. Coarse trembling of hands or legs. 4. Frequent muscle twitching such as pronounced jerking of arms or legs. 5. Blurred vision. 6. Marked dizziness. 7. Difficulty walking. 8. Slurred speech. 9. Irregular heart beat. 10. Swelling of the feet or lower legs.
Lithium bipolar treatment saved my life.
Despite all the evidence, nature's wonder drug is still subject to a lot of stigma and stereotyping.
Many people whose lives could easily be transformed from bipolar hell resist this cheap and effective treatment, often due to nothing but myths and half-truths. Instead, they prolong their own and their loved ones misery, and spend inordinate time, money and energy searching for alternative treatments – including the half-baked scams that permeate the Internet.
One thing for sure - medication is not a "one size fits all" science - no one drug is for everyone and many people do as well if not better on alternative medications such as Depakote or Lamictal. The combination of lithium/Lamictal is very worth exploring and is emerging as something of a new gold standard.
I should have done more homework!
Today lithium bipolar treatment involves lower doses and you experience fewer lithium side effects.
In the words of international bipolar expert, Jim Phelps MD: "Lithium is like two different medications: low doses are pretty easy to manage and produce few side effects. High doses are tricky to manage, require close monitoring to stay safe, and can cause side effects which make people want to consider alternative treatments."
This is something I learned the hard way. The day I was diagnosed as bipolar my psychiatrist lent me a copy of Kay Redfield Jamison's autobiography An Unquiet Mind.
It is a wonderful book and reading it answered a lot of questions for me. But it completely freaked me out about taking the "miracle" salt because Dr Jamison describes having terrible side effect problems with reading and concentration.
Then I did something really dumb - went on a amateur website about psychotropic medication and read that taking it makes you fat, bald and stupid. I never did any proper research, and I missed a really important passage in Dr Jamison's book about what happened WHEN SHE SWAPPED TO A LOWER DOSE!
So I tried Depakote, Geodon, Neurontin, and a whole lot of other things - and guess what - they made me fat, bald and stupid. More to the point, they did NOT stabilize me.
Finally, at the point of last resort I tried it. WOW! Now I am stable, happy and healthy. And I have finally read the part in An Unquiet Mind where Dr Jamison describes the benefits of being on a low dose. Duh!
Please try it and keep an open mind on lithium bipolar treatment.
You can always stop if it is not for you. If you are really freaked out at the idea, then at least try lithium orotate.
Lithium orotate is also known as LiOr or by brand names such as "Serenity".
This available without a prescription and is sold online and in health food stores.
Our motto here at bipolar-lives.com is Fact NOT Fiction. the following authoritative texts were used to compile this page on lithium and bipolar:
- Frederick K. Goodwin & Kay Redfield Jamison Manic-Depressive Illness: Bipolar Disorders and Recurrent Depression, Oxford University Press, 2007.
- James W. Jefferson & John H. Greist Lithium and Bipolar Disorder: A Guide, Lithium Information Center, Madison Institute of Medicine, 2004.
- Ronald R. Fieve M.D. Moodswing, Bantam Books, 1997.
Would it surprise you to discover that as well as bipolar symptoms, lithium bipolar treatment may actually be protecting your neurons, preventing brain atrophy, and increasing your gray matter?
It seems this amazing mineral salt helps us grow fresh grey matter in our brains, and protects us from aging, from the damage caused by bipolar episodes, and even protects against brain diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Research in late 2007 also shows lithium extending life spans.
Musicians Sting and the Police wrote a beautiful song about it.
This was based on real life experience with lithium bipolar treatment.
(Sting has bipolar disorder.)
I've been scattered
I've been shattered
I've been knocked out of the race
But I'll get better
I feel your light upon my face
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