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Lithium Carbonate for Schizophrenia

Sometimes lithium carbonate (Lithobid, Eskalith) is added to other medicines to treat schizophrenia. It is not clear exactly how lithium works, but it may help regulate certain brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that cause mood changes. Lithium carbonate may be most helpful for treating the mood problems associated with schizophrenia, such as depression.

Common side effects of lithium carbonate include:

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  • Nausea.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Loss of appetite, feeling of fullness or swollen stomach, and/or stomach upset.
  • Dry mouth, increased thirst, and increased urination.
  • Headache, slight memory loss, or confusion.
  • Sensitivity to cold.
  • Tiredness and sleepiness.
  • Weight gain.
  • Slight hand tremor.

Lithium carbonate is a salt, so any change in the balance between body salts and liquids (mostly water) in the body can change the amount of lithium carbonate in the blood.

Lithium carbonate blood levels need to be kept within a safe range.

  • Low lithium levels can cause symptoms of mood swings or emotional instability.
  • High levels can cause serious side effects that could be fatal.

To keep levels in a safe range:

  • Eat a balanced diet. Ask your doctor about salt, and get enough fluids.
  • If you have diarrhea or are in a situation where you sweat a lot, talk to your doctor. Loss of water will change the lithium levels in your body.
  • Know the signs of high lithium carbonate, such as shaky hands and muscle twitching, weakness, and loss of balance.
  • Have your blood tested regularly (from every week to every 6 or 12 months) to check lithium blood levels. Some of the signs of high levels are also found at normal levels.

You also need to be aware of the following:

  • Because lithium carbonate may make you tired and less alert, avoid driving a car or using other dangerous machinery until you know how lithium affects you.
  • Always seek care from a health professional if you are a woman and become pregnant while taking lithium carbonate. Women who take lithium carbonate and breast-feed their babies also need medical care from a health professional.
  • Do not drink alcohol if you are taking lithium carbonate. Lithium can hide the signs of alcohol intoxication; your blood alcohol levels could become dangerously high if you drink while taking this medicine.
  • Lithium carbonate can affect thyroid and kidney function. Your doctor may have your blood tested to monitor thyroid and kidney function while you are taking lithium.
  • Always seek medical treatment if you notice signs of excess lithium in the blood. Always tell each health professional who treats you that you are taking lithium carbonate. Taking certain medicines can interfere with the amount of lithium in your blood. Some medicines can cause your lithium blood level to get too high, and other medicines can cause it to get too low.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Miklos Ferenc Losonczy, MD, PhD - Psychiatry
Last Revised August 19, 2010

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 19, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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