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What are the Different Lithium Side Effects?

By M. DePietro
Updated May 17, 2024
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Lithium is considered a mood stabilizer. It is one of the commonly prescription drugs used to treat psychiatric conditions, such as bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia. Although everyone may react differently, some people may experience lithium side effects while taking the medication. Side effects vary from mild to moderate in most people.

Some of the most common lithium side effects include tremors in the hand and dry mouth. Other mild lithium side effects include thirst, frequent urination, and sleepiness. Some people may also experience a decrease in libido and weight gain. Gastrointestinal side effects also occur in some people and include nausea, vomiting, and a change in taste perception. Gastrointestinal side effects often decrease after the body gets used to the medication.

If the level of lithium becomes to high in the body, lithium toxicity could develop, which can increase some side effects. Side effects of lithium toxicity include blurred vision, an increase in tremors, and ringing in the ears. In cases of severe lithium toxicity, side effects may include seizures. A percentage of people taking lithium may develop an enlarged thyroid. Side effects similar to a low thyroid level may develop and include dry skin, hair loss, and swelling of the legs and feet.

Patients who take lithium should talk with their doctors about ways to reduce side effects. Gradually increasing the dosage may help reduce tremors. Some patients may divide the daily dosage into smaller doses taken a few times a day, instead of one larger dose once a day. This may allow the medication to be taken with meals and may reduce gastrointestinal side effects. Maintaining healthy eating habits and daily exercise may help prevent weight gain.

The correct dosage is partly determined by a person’s weight. After an initial dose is prescribed, adjustments may need to be made based on the response and a patent’s side effects. A correct balance needs to be reached. Too little of the medication may not treat the condition, and too much may lead to an increase in severity of lithium side effects.

While most people are able to tolerate the medication, lithium side effects in some people may require the medication be stopped. A person taking lithium should always talk with their doctor prior to stopping the medication. With a physician’s help, the benefits of the medication can be weighed with the severity of the side effects, to determine if a change is needed.

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