Objectives: To study the prophylactic efficacy of lithium administered every second day to patients with bipolar disorder or recurrent unipolar depressive disorder.
Methods: The study was carried out as a WHO multicentre study in five different psychiatric clinics: Russia (Moscow), Canada (Montreal), India (Lucknow), Germany (Munich) and South Korea (Pusan), with the lithium tablets being supplied from Denmark (Copenhagen). Participation in the study was conditional on the patient having been in prophylactic lithium treatment for the preceding 2-year period and having been free of depressive or manic phases during the preceding 6 months. After a 2-month baseline period during which lithium was administered every day, the treatment was changed to lithium intake every second day, this regimen in most cases being continued for 22 months.
Results: Forty-seven patients, 42 with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and five with a diagnosis of recurrent unipolar depressive disorder, participated in the study. The number of patients from each centre ranged from six to 11. The mean lithium dose every second day was 36 mmol lithium, leading to a mean 12-h standard serum lithium concentration during the last month of treatment at 0.78±0.16 mmol/L. Lithium intake every second day was effective in 38 out of 47 patients. The remaining nine patients had recurrences, a number not differing from the 16 patients in the same group of 47 patients who, during the 2-year period preceding the study, had recurrences. The mean 12-h standard serum lithium concentration was lower in the patients who had recurrences than in those who stayed euthymic. The results suggest that to be effective when administered every second day, lithium must be given in a dose leading to a 12-h standard serum lithium concentration at 0.8 mmol/L or above.
Conclusions: In the dose administered, lithium intake every second day was as effective as lithium intake every day. The amount and severity of lithium-related side effects were apparently not influenced by the change to lithium intake every second day.