Lithium carbonate, more commonly just called lithium, is a medication used to treat bipolar disorder. The older term for bipolar disorder is manic-depressive illness. Lithium decreases both the frequency and the intensity of the manic phase of the disease, which is characterized by rapid speech, a reduced need for sleep, hyperactivity, poor judgment and elation. Most medications have side effects, and lithium is no exception.
The liver is the organ responsible for regulating most chemical levels in the blood. It also produces and excretes bile, which is used to break down fats. Among the more than 500 functions the liver performs: production of cholesterol; regulation of amino acids; hemoglobin processing; breakdown of nutrients and drugs; and regulation of blood clotting. When your doctor wants to know if your liver is working the way it should, you may be asked to have liver function tests.
Liver Function Tests
Liver function tests are a measure of certain enzymes or proteins in your blood. Tests such as albumin and bilirubin are actually an indicator of how well the liver is working, while other tests called liver enzyme tests show levels of enzymes the liver releases when it is responding to damage or disease. Common liver enzyme tests include the alanine transaminase or ALT, the aspartate transaminase or AST, and the alkaline phosphatase or ALP. Two other tests that may be done are the Gamma-glutamyltransferase or GGT, and the L-lactate dehydrogenase (LDH). An increase in any of these enzyme tests may indicate you have liver damage or disease.
Lithium, the Liver and Kidneys
There is no report of liver toxicity or changes in liver enzymes according to Drugs.com. There is one recent report in the 2011 "Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin" that rats given lithium developed changes in the liver enzymes ALT, AST and ASP. Problems with kidneys and renal function, however, are relatively common side effects from lithium, and a patient on lithium should have his or her renal function assessed on a regular basis.
Considerations and Warnings
Although lithium can cause a wide variety of side effects, particularly when lithium levels are too high, most of the side effects are renal, gastrointestinal or involve the cardiovascular system rather than the liver. Neurological symptoms can also occur. The most serious side effect of lithium is that of birth defects. If you have questions about lithium carbonate and liver enzymes, consult a health care professional.
- Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital: How the Liver Works; 2011
- MayoClinic.com; Liver Function Tests; July 2010
- Drugs.com: Lithium Carbonate
- Mayo Clinic.com: Elevated Liver Enzymes; May 5, 2011
- “Biological And Pharmaceutical Bulletin”; Lithium Induced Toxicity in Rats: Blood Serum Chemistry, Antioxidative Enzymes in Red Blood Cells and Histopathological Studies; M. Ahmad, et al.; 2011