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Lithium

How does this medicine work?

Lithium is used for some types of depression, bipolar disorder, and cluster headaches. It helps stabilize moods.

How should I give it?

Lithium comes in liquid, tablet, and capsule form. Give it at regular times to keep a steady level in the bloodstream. Give this medicine exactly as the doctor ordered, even if your child feels fine.

Your child should be awake and alert when taking any medicine. Follow the checked instructions below:

___ If using the liquid form, shake well right before using. Draw up the correct amount in the medicine dropper or oral syringe. Give a small squirt of the medicine inside the cheek. To avoid choking, let your child swallow each squirt before giving more.

___ For children who cannot swallow pills:

  • If it is a tablet, crush it between 2 spoons, inside a plastic bag, or in folded paper.
  • If it is a capsule, open it.
  • Mix the powder with a very small amount (about 1 teaspoon) of soft food, such as applesauce, chocolate syrup, ice cream, jelly, or yogurt. Make sure your child takes all of the mixture.

___ Some forms of lithium pills are extended-release. Your doctor or pharmacist will tell you if they cannot be crushed.

Are there any precautions about food or other medicines?

Take lithium with food to help prevent an upset stomach.

Limit caffeine and avoid alcohol while taking this medicine.

A person taking lithium should eat a consistent amount of salt daily, avoiding very salty foods. A high-salt diet lessens the effect of the medicine. But a sudden switch to a low-salt diet can boost the blood's lithium level too high, triggering more side effects. If you have questions about salt in your diet, please call a dietician at your clinic or hospital.

Check with the doctor before taking any other medicines. The following medicines can raise lithium levels and cause toxicity:

  • ACE inhibitors, such as captopril, lisinopril, or enalapril
  • aspirin
  • diuretics, such as furosemide (Lasix®)
  • high blood pressure medicines
  • NSAIDS, such as ibuprofen, Advil®
  • spironolactone (Aldactone®)

What should I do if a dose is missed?

If one dose is missed, give it as soon as you remember. If it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose. Never give a double dose.

If your child vomits (throws up) within 15 minutes after receiving a dose, give it again. If your child vomits within 15 minutes of taking the second dose, do not repeat the dose.

What are the side effects?

Common

  • dry mouth
  • increased thirst
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea (upset stomach)
  • diarrhea (loose bowel movements)
  • tired/weakness
  • headache
  • slight tremors
  • weight gain

Occasional

  • changes in blood sugar
  • low thyroid function (less energy, decrease in growth)
  • acne
  • skin rashes
  • hair loss

Rare

  • seizures
  • confusion

The person taking this medicine should not drive, operate machinery, or do anything else that could be dangerous until it is known if he or she has any side effects to this medicine.

When should I call the doctor?

  • hands become shakier
  • continued nausea or vomiting
  • trouble talking
  • blurred vision
  • confusion
  • very tired
  • seizures

What else do I need to know?

Blood tests are needed at times to make sure the blood levels of lithium are correct, and to check red and white blood cell counts and thyroid function. The tests should be taken at least 8 hours after a dose.

It is important to drink 8 to 10 glasses of water each day.

You and your child should know the names of all the medicines he or she is taking. Share this information with anyone involved in your child's care.

Always make sure you have enough medicine on hand. Each time you refill your prescription, check to see how many refills are left. If no refills are left, the pharmacy will need 2 or 3 days to contact the doctor to renew the prescription.

Store all medicines in the original container and away from direct sunlight or heat. Do not store in humid places, such as the bathroom. Keep them out of children's reach, locked up if possible.

Check the label for the expiration date. Flush outdated medicines down the toilet instead of putting them in the garbage.

If too much or the wrong kind of medicine is taken, call the Poison Control Center toll-free (1-800-222-1222).

Questions?

This is not specific to your child, but provides general information. If you have any questions, please call the doctor or pharmacist.

Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
Last reviewed 8/2015 

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Family Resource Center library, or visit www.childrensmn.org/educationmaterials.

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