Side effect What is it? What should I do if it happens to me?
TREMOR Fine shaking of the hands If it annoys you, your doctor can give you something for it. If it
gets worse and spreads to the legs or jaw, stop taking your
lithium and see your doctor.
STOMACH UPSET This includes feeling and being sick and getting
If it's mild, see your pharmacist. If it lasts for more than a day,
stop taking your lithium and see your doctor
POLYURIA Passing a lot of urine. Don't drink too much alcohol. Tell your doctor about it.
POLYDIPSIA Feeling very thirsty. Your mouth is dry and
there may be a metallic taste.
Drink water or low calorie drinks in moderation. Suck boiled
WEIGHT GAIN Drinking more and eating more sweet things or
Avoid fatty foods like chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks. A diet
full of vegetables and fibre will usually help, as will physical
activities such as walking. If it becomes a problem or you are
worried, ask to see a dietician.
OEDEMA When your ankles or feet swell up. Discuss this with your doctor when you see them next.
HYPOTHYROIDISM Low thyroid activity - this makes you feel tired. It's not serious. Tell your doctor the next time you see them.
SKIN RASHES Blotches seen anywhere. Stop taking your lithium and see your doctor.
Signs of toxicity:
your lithium level may be too high if you suffer any of the following:
Blurred vision (things look fuzzy or you can't focus properly)
Drowsiness or feeling sleepy or sluggish
Confusion or slurred speech
Increased thirst or passing more urine or water
Dizziness and vomiting
Unsteadiness on your feet
Severe tremor or twitching
If these happen, stop taking it and contact your doctor now. But remember, just stopping lithium can be dangerous.
What about alcohol?
It is officially recommended that people taking lithium should not drink alcohol. This is because if both lithium and alcohol are taken at
the same time, drowsiness can occur. This can lead to falls or accidents. As well as this, drinking alcohol can often make your mood
unstable. Excessive drinking is especially likely to do this. Once people are used to taking medication, they can sometimes drink
alcohol in small amounts without any harm. Avoid alcohol altogether for the first one or two months. After this, if you want a drink, try a
glass of your normal drink and see how you feel. If this doesn’t make you feel drowsy, then it is probably OK to drink small amounts. It
pays to be very cautious because alcohol affects people in different ways, especially when they are taking medication.
Don’t stop taking your medication because you fancy a drink at the weekend. If you do drink alcohol, drink only small amounts. Never
drink any alcohol and drive while on lithium. Discuss any concerns you may have with your pharmacist, doctor or nurse.
When I feel better, can I stop taking it?
You should never stop taking lithium suddenly. People that do suddenly stop taking lithium become ill much more quickly than those
who come off it slowly. Lithium is usually a long-term treatment. It is not addictive. You and your doctor should decide together when it
is time for you to come off it. This should be gradually over at least 4 weeks, if not longer.
Do I need to know anything else?
Yes. The amount of salt in your diet can change the level of lithium in your body. Eat a balanced diet and don't change the amount of
salt you usually have in your food. Some illnesses can change the amount of salt in our bodies. We lose salt in our sweat, and when
we have a fever or ‘flu. We also lose salt if we are sick or have diarrhoea. All these conditions can change the level of lithium in our
bodies. Do not ignore feelings of thirst – keep up your fluid intake.
Remember, leaflets like this can only describe some of the effects of medication. You may find other
books or leaflets also useful. If you have access to the internet you may find a lot of information
there as well, but be careful, as internet based information is not always accurate.
2001 United Kingdom Psychiatric Pharmacy Group www.ukppg.org.uk
This leaflet is to help you understand about your medicine. It is not an official manufacturer's Patient Information Leaflet.
For more information call the UKPPG National Telephone Helpline, 11am to 5pm, Monday to Friday on 020 7919 2999 or
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