10 Most Common Side Effects of Lithium

Lithium is a powerful mood stabilizer that was approved “in the 1970s for [the treatment of] both manic and depressive episodes” (NIMH). The medication can go a long way toward helping individuals with bipolar disorder, but it does have its share of side effects. The most common of these are listed below.

1. Hypothyroidism

lithium effects

Lithium abuse can lead to hyperthyroidism.

According to the NIMH, “Lithium treatment may cause low thyroid levels in some people.” This condition is called hypothyroidism and, when left untreated, can lead to low metabolism, muscle weakness, and even goiters. Because this side effect is relatively common, your doctor will need to monitor your thyroid function in order to ensure that it has not become an issue.

2. Brittle Hair and Nails

“Drying and thinning of hair” is another common side effect of lithium (FDA). This side effect is not usually excessive and is not dangerous. However, if you notice extreme dryness in these parts of the body, you may need to visit a dermatologist.

3. Dry Mouth

Mild thirst and dry mouth are also side effects you are likely to experience. If you notice that it has become a problem which leads to consistent, extreme thirst and frequent urination, you may be suffering from kidney problems, but in most cases, the effect is mild.

4. Constipation

Many drugs commonly cause constipation. Sometimes, this can be helped with certain over-the-counter medications. If you are experiencing extreme discomfort as a result, discuss it with your doctor and find out if your dosage can be lowered or if another solution can be found.

5. Weight Loss or Gain

As the result of taking a mood stabilizer, you may experience some changes in your eating habits causing you to lose or gain weight. Over time, these effects usually even out.

6. Cold Discomfort

“Unusual discomfort in cold temperatures” is common, especially when a person first begins taking the medication (NLM). To combat this, it may be necessary for an individual to keep the heat turned up in their house for a while. Usually, this effect is mild, but if it begins to cause consistent problems in your life, call your doctor.

7. Mood Swings

Because lithium is a mood stabilizer, it is likely to cause mood swings for at least the first few weeks while the body is getting used to the medication. Some individuals feel numb at first while others experience depression and other moods. However, the drug will even out over time, and you will begin to feel like yourself again.

8. Acne and Skin Effects

Because of its reaction with the thyroid, lithium may cause acne. Many individuals have difficulty with this side effect and attempt to combat it with over-the-counter products. Swollen lips are also common as well as paleness of the skin.

9. Pain

Mild pain or discomfort in the joints and muscles is a common side effect of taking this drug. However, if you begin to experience severe pain, call your doctor immediately.

10. Indigestion

Indigestion, gas, and stomach pain will often occur during a lithium treatment regimen. Your doctor may choose to treat these with over-the-counter medication or by possibly lowering your dosage.