Certain lithium compounds, also known as lithium salts, are used as psychiatric medication, primarily for bipolar disorder and for major depressive disorder that does not improve following the use of antidepressants. In these disorders, it sometimes reduces the risk of suicide. Lithium is taken orally.
|By mouth, parenteral|
|Drug class||Mood stabilizer|
|Bioavailability||Depends on formulation|
|Elimination half-life||24 h, 36 h (elderly)|
|Chemical and physical data|
|Molar mass||6.94 g·mol−1|
|3D model (JSmol)|
Common side effects include increased urination, shakiness of the hands, and increased thirst. Serious side effects include hypothyroidism, diabetes insipidus, and lithium toxicity. Blood level monitoring is recommended to decrease the risk of potential toxicity. If levels become too high, diarrhea, vomiting, poor coordination, sleepiness, and ringing in the ears may occur. Lithium is teratogenic, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy and at higher dosages. The use of lithium while breastfeeding is controversial; however, many international health authorities advise against it, and the long-term outcomes of perinatal lithium exposure have not been studied. The American Academy of Pediatrics lists lithium as contraindicated for pregnancy and lactation. The United States Food and Drug Administration categorizes lithium as having positive evidence of risk for pregnancy and possible hazardous risk for lactation.
Lithium salts are classified as mood stabilizers. How lithium works is not specifically known.
In the nineteenth century, lithium was used in people who had gout, epilepsy, and cancer. Its use in the treatment of mental disorders began in 1948 by John Cade in Australia. It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, and is available as a generic medication. In 2019, it was the 205th most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, with more than 2 million prescriptions.