Our Blogs

Lithium Toxicity: Facts You Need to Know

Written by Berkowitz

Lithium pills spilled onto a flat surfaceLithium is commonly prescribed to treat those with bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression). In some cases, a patient could suffer from lithium toxicity. Acute toxicity cases occur when a patient intentionally or accidentally swallows too much of their prescription. Chronic toxicity occurs when a patient takes too much each day and the toxic levels continue to form. For most patients, chronic toxicity is common and occurs due to dehydration or the combination of other medications. Those taking lithium for their disorder must have their blood levels monitored regularly to avoid such complications.

Why is Lithium Toxic?

Lithium is a soft metal and is found in batteries, lubricants, high performance alloys, and soldering equipment. The medication uses this same formulation to help treat bipolar disorder; therefore, too much can lead to dangerous toxicity cases.

The Symptoms

Your symptoms will vary depending on which type of toxicity you have, but could include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Hand tremors
  • Incoordination
  • Seizures
  • Slurred speech
  • Uncontrollable eye movements
  • Coma
  • Heart problems
  • Tremors

In severe cases, you could suffer from kidney damage, psychosis, and even movement disorders. Most patients will suffer from gastrointestinal discomforts before the nervous system symptoms appear. Other times a patient will not.

Testing is Key

Most doctors prescribing lithium to patients will order periodic blood level tests. This is because there is a small window between effective doses and toxic levels. Also, what is safe for one patient could be highly toxic to another; therefore, a doctor must assess your proper lithium level. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that the desirable level is 0.6 to 1.2 mEq/L. However, there are patients with sensitivity that can suffer from toxicity symptoms under 1.0 mEq/L.

Seeking Treatment

If you exhibit any symptoms of lithium toxicity, speak with your physician or go to the emergency room. Your healthcare provider will measure and monitor your vitals, blood levels, pulse, breathing and blood pressure. To treat toxicity, they may use activated charcoal, EKG, fluids, kidney dialysis and even additional medication to help control symptoms while the toxic levels are removed from your body.

If you suffered from acute toxicity, the outlook will depend on how quickly you sought treatment. Those who do not develop nervous system symptoms typically recover well compared to those who do. If you have serious nervous system symptoms, you may suffer from permanent neurological disorders. Those suffering from chronic toxic levels often do not receive treatment right away, which leads to long-term problems. If dialysis is performed quickly enough, you may be able to avoid kidney damage.

Was Your Doctor Negligent with Your Lithium?

Doctors are required to monitor a patient’s lithium blood level. If you developed lithium toxicity because your physician failed to monitor you, contact a medical malpractice attorney. Contact Berkowitz and Hanna LLC today to schedule a no-obligation case evaluation. Call us or contact us online to get started.