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8 Tips to Reduce the Side Effects of Lithium

I enjoy writing about experiences from my own life so that my tips may help others.

Lithium Carbonate

Lithium Carbonate

Lithium is an old drug that was first used to treat bipolar disorder over 50 years ago. It's still one of the most effective treatments for mood disorders today, but it comes with some risks and side effects. The good news is that there are many ways you can lessen these side effects so you can live better with your condition, as well as avoid long-term complications from taking lithium therapy.

While it's important to recognize that everyone is different and each person experiences symptoms differently, here are some of the tips that I've learned to help manage my own side effects and feel better.

1. Take Medication Regularly

Taking medication regularly is key to preventing side effects from triggering in the first place. It is helpful to take it with a meal, dinner for example, and at the same time each day. This not only helps to create a stable routine, but it also minimizes nausea.

If you do miss a dose, try to take it as soon as you remember. If you're more than 30 minutes late taking your medicines, skip the missed dose and go back to taking your medicine at the regular time, if your doctor agrees.

2. Manage New Changes in Behavior

You may notice some changes in your behavior when you start taking lithium as your body adjusts to the medication. It's important to talk with your doctor if you feel like these side effects are getting worse, or if they bother you.

You might experience new mood swings and irritability, anxiety or panic attacks, trouble sleeping, daytime sleepiness, and difficulty concentrating.

Managing these changes can be challenging if you're already experiencing a mood disorder, however, it's helpful to remember that your body is adjusting to a new medication and that things should settle down.

In these early stages, communication with your doctor is key, as well as having regular blood tests to ensure that the lithium in your blood is at a safe level.

3. Drink Lots of Fluids to Prevent Dehydration

Lithium can make you very thirsty! While drinking plenty of fluids is important for your general health, it is particularly important if you're taking lithium. This drug can cause dehydration due to its effects on the kidneys, so it's essential that you stay hydrated.

Try to stick to water and other non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic beverages when possible, but if you do need a pick-me-up, go for coffee or tea instead of alcohol. It's also best not to overdo your intake of caffeine or sugar, both of which can make you feel more tired than usual.

4. Get Enough Salt and Eat Small, Frequent Meals

Salt is important for fluid balance and helps maintain normal blood pressure, so getting enough salt is critical while taking lithium. It's also needed for proper kidney function and digestion. Having too little salt in your diet, especially while taking lithium, can cause side effects such as muscle cramps, weakness and fatigue.

To manage these symptoms, aim for a steady salt intake and eat small, frequent meals so that the nutrients from your food are received well over time. This will also help in easing nausea and other digestive side effects.

Alcohol can dehydrate you and can worsen the effects of Lithium

Alcohol can dehydrate you and can worsen the effects of Lithium

5. Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes you to urinate more frequently and thus become dehydrated. Dehydration can cause kidney damage and even death in some cases. Even small amounts of alcohol can be dangerous for someone taking lithium; thus, they should avoid drinking any amount at all while on this medication.

6. Don't Take Lithium if You Have a Thyroid Disorder

One of the most common side effects of lithium is hypothyroidism, which is a condition in which your thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones. If you have a thyroid disorder, talk to your doctor before taking lithium.

If you take lithium and develop symptoms related to hypothyroidism (such as muscle aches, depression and weight gain), consult with your doctor immediately because they may need to change your dosage or stop using the drug altogether.

7. Find Relief From Constipation or Diarrhea

If you're dealing with constipation or diarrhea, there are ways to ease your symptoms. Keep in mind that these tips are not a substitute for medical advice. If you have severe side effects that don't improve after trying these suggestions, talk to your doctor about other options.

Tips for Constipation

  • Eat high-fiber foods like whole grains and dark leafy greens every day, and drink plenty of water (at least eight glasses). Aim for at least 30 grams of fiber per day if you're taking lithium—this is the equivalent of two servings of whole wheat bread or four cups of cooked brown rice. You may also want to take a fiber supplement such as psyllium husks or methylcellulose (Citrucel).
  • Exercise regularly; it's one of the best ways to boost your bowel movements and get things moving again! Try walking around the block every morning before work or going on an evening walk with a friend after dinner—even 10 minutes here and there can help keep everything moving smoothly through your body's system.

Tips for Diarrhea

Drink plenty of water. Eat bland foods like crackers, toast and bananas to help settle your stomach. Try taking an over-the-counter medication that contains bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol), which can help relieve diarrhea symptoms by coating the lining of your intestines.

8. Be Kind to Your Eyes

Lithium therapy can cause some pain behind the eyes for some people. It is thought to be due to an increase in pressure and can be bothersome if left untreated. Talk to your doctor and get your lithium levels checked if the eye pain causes too much distress.

In the meantime, the most important thing you can do to keep your eyes feeling well is to wear sunglasses and avoid bright lights as much as possible. You may want to consider giving your eyes a rest from reading or using computer screens for prolonged periods of time.

Over-the-counter eye drops can be helpful and therapeutic if your eyes are dry and sore; these will help keep them moistened so they don't become irritated as easily.

Reducing the side effects of Lithium will help to bring some peace and balance as you continue with Lithium therapy

Reducing the side effects of Lithium will help to bring some peace and balance as you continue with Lithium therapy

Conclusion

Lithium is a mood stabilizer that is used to treat bipolar disorder. However, taking lithium can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness and eye pain, among others. While these are not harmful in themselves they can significantly impact quality of life.

So to help minimize the side effects of lithium therapy, take your medication regularly, eat small meals frequently, drink lots of water, avoid caffeine and alcohol, and get plenty of fiber in your diet.

I hope this article was helpful to you in learning how to reduce the side effects of lithium.

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2022 Louise