Variability in the Management of Lithium Poisoning


  • Darren M. Roberts,

    1. Department of Renal Medicine, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, United Kingdom
    2. Burns, Trauma and Critical Care Research Centre, School of Medicine, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
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  • Sophie Gosselin

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Emergency Medicine, Medical Toxicology Service, McGill University Health Centre, Montréal, Quebec, Canada
    2. Centre Antipoison du Québec, Québec City, Quebec, Canada
    • Address correspondence to: Sophie Gosselin, Emergency Department, 687 avenue des Pins Ouest, Montréal, QC H3A 1A1, Canada, Tel.: 514 934 1934, or e-mail:

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Three patterns of lithium poisoning are recognized: acute, acute-on-chronic, and chronic. Intravenous fluids with or without an extracorporeal treatment are the mainstay of treatment; their respective roles may differ depending on the mode of poisoning being treated. Recommendations for treatment selection are available but these are based on a small number of observational studies and their uptake by clinicians is not known. Clinician decision-making in the treatment of four cases of lithium poisoning was assessed at a recent clinical toxicology meeting using an audience response system. Variability in treatment decisions was evident in addition to discordance with published recommendations. Participants did not consistently indicate that hemodialysis was the first-line treatment, instead opting for a conservative approach, and continuous modalities were viewed favorably; this is in contrast to recommendations in some references. The development of multidisciplinary consensus guidelines may improve the management of patients with lithium poisoning but prospective randomized controlled trials are required to more clearly define the role of extracorporeal treatments.