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Bipolar disorder in adults and lithium: Pharmacology, administration, and side effects

Philip G Janicak, MD
Section Editor
Paul Keck, MD
Deputy Editor
David Solomon, MD


The efficacy of lithium for treating mania was discovered in 1949, making it the first medication specifically developed to treat bipolar disorder [1]. Lithium remains a mainstay of treatment for bipolar disorder, especially for acute mania and maintenance treatment. In addition, lithium appears to reduce the risk of suicide in patients with bipolar disorder [2]. (See "Suicidal ideation and behavior in adults", section on 'Pharmacotherapy' and "Bipolar disorder in adults: Choosing maintenance treatment", section on 'Reduced risk of suicide'.)

Lithium is the third element of the periodic table and is a monovalent cation that shares certain properties with sodium, potassium, and calcium [3,4].

The pharmacology, administration, and side effects of lithium are reviewed here. Choosing a medication (including lithium) to treat acute mania, hypomania, and bipolar depression is discussed separately, as is the choice of medication for maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder, and the epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

(See "Bipolar disorder in adults: Choosing pharmacotherapy for acute mania and hypomania".)

(See "Bipolar disorder in adults: Pharmacotherapy for acute depression".)

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Aug 31, 2017.
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