Bipolar disorder and other mood disorders can have a significant impact on a person’s health and well-being. There are a variety of pharmaceutical and psychotherapeutic therapies for Bipolar disorder, but a treatment method that started decades ago is still a mainstay in the treatment of mood disorders. Lithium is a commonly used treatment for mood disorders, and it’s proven effective for more than half a century. It’s not a chemical compound that was synthesized in a lab; it’s a common element that you can find on the periodic table. Learn more about this drug and why it’s useful for people with bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that’s characterized by periods of depression and mania. Extreme mood swings can occur, but the disorder typically involves long periods of time in one stat before switching to the next. For instance, you may experience a week of manic symptoms, when you feel happy, energized, and even delusional. Then the next week, you feel depressed, unmotivated, and fatigued. Both phases of this disorder can be debilitating.
Depressive stages can make it difficult to get out of bed, focus on tasks, or get motivated to work or engage socially. But manic phases can be difficult too. Mania can cause you to forgo sleep and meals because you feel you don’t need them. You may also alienate friends and family, make rash financial decisions, or experience paranoid delusions. Severe manic phases can cause symptoms of psychosis, where you think there is some hidden threat that only you can stop.
Bipolar disorder often needs medical or clinical interventions to help improve quality of life and to prevent complications like suicide.
Lithium is an element that’s used as a prescription drug and as a supplement in lower doses. Lithium is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of certain mental health issues like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Lithium is primarily used as a mood stabilizer, but it’s specific mechanisms of action (how it works in the brain) are currently unknown. Lithium seems to interact with several receptors and chemical messengers in the brain as it’s distributed widely after you take it. It increases the synthesis of serotonin and decreases the release of norepinephrine. Both of these chemicals are tied to a wide range of functions, including motivation, mood, and energy levels.
The use of lithium as a mood stabilizer isn’t new. In fact, the practice is more than 60 years old. When lithium first began to be used, it led to an improvement in outcomes for people with mood disorders like bipolar disorder. It has shown to alleviate acute manic or depressive episodes, it can help prevent mood swings, and it can help prevent suicidal thoughts or actions. Though the drug has been used for decades, it’s actions are still poorly understood. One paper suggests that a better understanding of the way lithium works in the body can help to improve treatments for bipolar disorder and depression, and it could eventually be useful in treating other illnesses.
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