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Keywords:

  • Bipolar disorder;
  • Lithium;
  • Review;
  • Psychopharmacology;
  • Treatment

SUMMARY

Still after more than 50 years, lithium is a major treatment of bipolar disorder, even though it has not been promoted by the pharmaceutical industry over the last decades. In recent years the evidence base on lithium for bipolar disorder has substantially increased due to results from a number of trials. Therefore, a review of this evidence is timely. The efficacy of lithium as an acute treatment and as a maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder was evaluated through a review of the evidence, focusing on modern, randomized, parallel-group designed trials. Additionally, the evidence was sought translated into the proper use of lithium in clinical practice. Lithium's antimanic efficacy has been convincingly demonstrated. However, as blood monitoring due to the risk of toxicity is required and due to an insufficient response in highly agitated patients, lithium monotherapy has a limited place in the acute treatment of severe manic states. For acute bipolar depression, results are conflicting. Recent maintenance trials have added substantially to the documentation of lithium's long-term stabilizing properties in bipolar disorder, and these properties have been demonstrated independently of any acute response to lithium. Finally, it is now beyond doubt that not only does lithium prevent mania, but also depression in bipolar disorder. Lithium is still to be considered a major if not the most important mood- stabilizer, at least for maintaining long-term stability in patients with bipolar disorder. The potential risks of lithium should be weighed up against its benefits and the fact that serious adverse effects are usually avoidable.