Bipolar disorder (BD), also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual patterns of mood, energy and activity. People suffering from this disorder experience “mood episodes” characterized by extreme changes in energy, activity and sleep patterns that severely affect their ability to carry out their day-to-day tasks. These episodes alternate between extremely elated and energized behavior (manic episodes), to very sad, hopeless periods (depressive episodes).
Generally, people suffering from BD tend to experience the periods of intense emotions, unusual behaviors, changes in sleep patterns, etc. Of the many medications and therapies available, lithium has been recognized as one of the most effective therapies and most well-studied approaches for treating this illness.
Lithium helps in managing the widely opposing symptoms of mania and depression of BD by reducing their severity and frequency. It also notably reduces the risk of suicide. Due to the above-mentioned advantages, lithium is usually prescribed as a maintenance therapy for a long period of time. Though researchers and scientists are still unclear of the way lithium stabilizes a person’s mood, it apparently assists in strengthening the nerve cell connection in the brain that are responsible for regulating mood, thinking and behavior.
Pure lithium is a naturally occurring mineral, just like sodium, calcium or potassium. It is found abundantly in certain rocks and the sea, as well as in minuscule amounts in plants and animal tissues. Despite its presence from time immemorial and its application in treatments for mental disorders since the 1970s by doctors in the United States, the molecular mechanisms underlying such treatments have only been studied in the past 15 years or so.
How lithium acts on the brain has been the greatest mystery of psychopharmacology. Though it is known that lithium affects the brain, it is not yet known exactly how. One study conducted on animals identified the neuroprotective and neurotrophic effects of lithium, which suggests that lithium plays a vital role in protecting nerve cells from damage, degeneration or impairment and stimulates the growth of nerve tissue.
Another study discovered that people with BD who were taking lithium witnessed appreciably larger hippocampal and amygdala volume than those patients who were not taking lithium. In fact, the latter group had a significant decrease in volume of these brain regions in comparison to the healthy subjects. Certain recent studies have been comparing lithium with other mood stabilizers and searching for a genetic basis for lithium response.
Lithium takes time to work on its patient, usually several weeks. In the interim, one needs to conduct blood tests from time to time to check the lithium levels. This is a vital part of the treatment since the amount of lithium required to treat the illness differs from person to person. Therefore, a very sensitive balance needs to be maintained in order to prevent toxicity.
Lithium could be fatal for a patient with impaired kidney function because it is excreted from the body almost entirely by the kidneys. The inability to excrete lithium could raise the drug levels in the body to dangerous levels that could turn fatal. Interestingly, the excretion of lithium through the kidneys is dependent on the sodium levels in the body. The lower the sodium, the lesser lithium is excreted, which leads to a buildup of the drug to toxic levels.
Many associated factors would also dictate the buildup of lithium in the body, such as if the patient is suffering from a fever and sweating profusely or has a low salt diet, vomits or suffers from diarrhea due to which the sodium levels could also decrease, etc. It is therefore advised to drink eight to 12 glasses of water every day and use the normal amount of salt in food when undergoing lithium treatment.
Since lithium takes time to work on a patient, physicians usually treat the more serious cases by combining lithium with a tranquilizer, such as haloperidol or chlorpromazine, and the tranquilizer may be gradually withdrawn once the patient is normalized. Besides undergoing a treatment, it is also essential for a person to be aware of the warning signs to identify the disorder. Once the disorder has been identified, one should consult an expert and undergo the right treatment.
If you or your loved one is going through any mental health disorder, the Arizona Mental Health Helpline can help you in connecting to the best mental health treatment centers in Arizona where qualified medical representatives can decide on a treatment plan that best suits your needs. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-606-7791 or chat with our representatives to know more about mental health disorder treatment centers in Arizona.