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What Are the Different Types of Lithium Medication?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2016
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Lithium medication is one of the main anti-manic drugs used to treat bipolar I and II disorder. The various types are manufactured by a number of companies and may be known by different names depending on the manufacturers and the countries in which they are made. The three most common forms are plain lithium, controlled release and extended release. They are available in pills, which may be tablets or capsules and elixir, and vary in dosage. Some names these medications may carry include Lithobid®, and Eskalith®, which include a CR or ER to designate controlled or extended release.

There are complex methods for determining dosage. Generally, most adults take about 900-1200 mg per day, but the dose amount isn’t the determining factor. Instead, doctors determine the dosage based on patient response and blood serum level.

There is a very narrow line between a therapeutic dose and one that is poisonous and injurious to the body. Initial dosing gets patients up to a therapeutic range, but since response to lithium can change over time, with illness or with other medications, patients usually have lithium medication levels checked at least every six months once they’ve reliably reached a therapeutic range. More blood tests are required in initiation of lithium therapy to make sure the dose is adequate and effective.

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This translates to very different doses for all users of lithium medication. It means changing doses over time for each person to adjust for various circumstances. Doctors use the least amount possible to get patients into the therapeutic range and only increase to address continuing symptoms. Higher doses than needed can cause unpleasant side effects, and a patient that is not responsive without exceeding the safe range needs other treatment.

One form of lithium medication isn’t clinically superior to others. Doctors tend to prefer to keep clients on the same type if it’s working and would not vary between controlled or extended release types. Some patients find they prefer one type to another.

Extended release forms may be better for people taking lithium once or twice a day and the standard type could better serve people who take more frequent doses of lithium medication. There’s a high degree of patient preference or perception on this issue, but all types are effective. The only form that may not get used often in adult populations is the elixir.

Another supplement that contains lithium is lithium orotate, which is sold online and over the counter. Medical professionals believe the levels of lithium provided by this supplement are insufficient to put people in the therapeutic range. Additionally, the wisdom of determining a dose without blood testing or medical guidance is ill-advised, given the serious consequences of residual mood swings or overdose of the drug. If people are interested in a more natural drug, it may help them to know that lithium is a natural mineral in abundant supply in the earth, and in this respect, it might only differ slightly from minerals like iron or calcium, except that it has a proven record in alleviating the symptoms of bipolar disorder for many people.

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