Lithium Carbonate: Formula, Dosage & Side Effects

Instructor: Jennifer Kinder
Learn what lithium carbonate is and what it is prescribed to treat illustrated with a real life example. Learn about the side effects and dosage recommendations.

Lithium Carbonate

Keith blows hot and cold. He has periods of time where he feels very depressed and lethargic. His energy level will be so low that he'll struggle to get out of bed. He feels hopeless and worthless. He has no appetite and feels like he is forcing himself to eat. He hates feeling like a pathetic sloth for weeks at a time.

On the other hand, Keith also has periods of time where he feels on top of the world! It's almost like his mind thinks faster and smarter than everyone else. In fact, when he speaks, it feels like his mouth can't keep up with his mind! Sometimes he feels so great, he impulsively flies out to Vegas to outsmart the blackjack dealer.

Keith's friend came over to visit last night and found Keith running around his house like crazy. He was spouting nonsense and said he hadn't slept for three days. Keith's friend drove him to the hospital for an evaluation. While he was hospitalized, the unit psychiatrist diagnosed him with Bipolar Disorder and prescribed him lithium carbonate to even out his highs and lows.

Keith is suffering from a mental health condition called Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder is a mental health diagnosis given when someone is experiencing extreme highs and extreme lows in their mood. Lithium carbonate is a mood stabilizing medication that is primarily prescribed for individuals with bipolar disorder. It is used to even out a patient's extreme highs in bipolar disorder.

Formula and Dosage

Lithium carbonate capsules contain active and inactive ingredients. Capsules contain 150mgs, 300mgs, or 600mgs of lithium carbonate. In addition to this, depending on the dosage, each capsule contains talc, colloidal silicon dioxide, stearic acid, gelatin, titanium dioxide, and various dyes for coloring.

The exact reason that lithium is effective is unknown. However, it is believed to affect the group of neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, known as the catecholamines. The catecholamines include dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These brain chemicals are involved in mood, attention, and sleep.

Dosage of lithium carbonate varies depending on severity of symptoms. However, when lithium carbonate is prescribed, the patient's serum lithium levels, or the amount of lithium in the blood stream, must be monitored. This ensures the patient has a therapeutic, or effective, level of lithium in the body and not one that might be toxic.

Lithium toxicity occurs when too much lithium builds up in the body. Symptoms of lithium toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, having tremors, muscle weakness, sleepiness, or some problems with voluntary movements, like picking up a book or sweeping the floor.

For someone who is severely manic, or in the extreme high phase of bipolar disorder, a typical dose might be 600mgs three times a day. For the maintenance of bipolar disorder, a patient might be prescribed 300mgs 3-4 times a day. For unknown reasons, the body can tolerate more lithium carbonate during the manic phase and the chance for lithium toxicity is less.

Side Effects

The side effects of lithium carbonate range from uncomfortable to life threatening. Lithium should also not be prescribed to pregnant women or nursing mothers.

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