Mood Stabilisers & Bipolar Disorder: Using Lithium to Treat Mental Health Conditions

There are a wide variety of different medications used in the treatment of mental health conditions such as antidepressants, psychotropics and mood stabilisers. This article aims to explore the role of lithium in treating bipolar disorder with key areas to be explored listed below:

  • What is Biploar Disorder?
  • How does Lithium work?
  • What are the side-effects of Lithium

What is Biploar Disorder?

The most common medication used to treat the depressive episodes associated with bipolar disorder are antidepressants. In addition either an antipsychotic or a mood stabiliser may be prescribed in order to prevent the sufferer switching over from depression to mania. However, antidepressants are not used long-term unlike in severe depression.

Bipolar disorder was originally known as manic depression and typically involves the sufferer experiencing a combination of depressive episodes in addition to episodes of mania involving feeling very high or ‘manic.’

Unlike in other mental health conditions such as borderline personality disorder which predominantly affect women, this condition affects men and women equally. In terms of treatment for bipolar disorder a combination approach is often utilised involving certain types of medication as well as therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), cognitive analytical therapy (CAT) and dialectical behhavioral therapy (DBT).

How Does Lithium Work?

Lithium is a naturally occurring salt and is classified as a mood stabiliser. It may be used both in the treatment of bipolar disorder and also in the case of previously treatment-resistant severe forms of depression.

This medication affects neurotransmitters and their receptors within the brain; it decreases the likelihood of relapse by around one third and short-term use may treat both manic and hypomanic episodes. Due to its toxicity, regular blood tests are required throughout the course of lithium treatment in addition to an initial ECG.

What are the Side-Effects of Lithium?

As with the most medications both the patient and the treatment team must be aware of possible side-effects. Lithium may result in both short and long-term side-effects. Short-term side-effects may include the following: metallic taste, nausea, stomach upset, increased urination and thirst whereas long-term side-effects may include oedema, weight gain, kidney damage and cardiotoxicity.

Those prescribed lithium are usually advised to ensure they drink regular fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated as well as not to reduce salt intake due to the increased risk of toxicity.

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