Lithium & Weight Loss

Doctor writing a prescription
Doctor writing a prescription at his desk (Image: thodonal/iStock/Getty Images)

Lithium is a drug that's used to treat manic depression, also called bipolar disorder. It affects the central nervous system and helps to control moods. The prescription medicine also is used to treat cluster headaches and neutropenia. Side effects can be serious especially if you have weight issues and are trying to lose weight.

Significance

Weight gain is a significant side effect of lithium and other drugs used to treat bipolar disorder, according to the National Association on Mental Illness. Because of this side effect, many patients stop taking the medication, which can lead to manic behavior and depression. Additionally, excessive weight gain can lead to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Effects

In addition to weight gain, other side effects of lithium may include hand tremors, acne, memory problems and water retention. According to the National Association on Mental Illness, about 30 percent of patients who use lithium to control mental disorders cannot tolerate the medication because side effects cannot be controlled. However, while the drug's side effects may be difficult to tolerate, lithium is one of the most effective drugs used to treat bipolar disorder.

Dosage

By experimenting with the dosage, the weight gain, water retention and gastrointestinal difficulties that sometimes occur can be reduced. According to the National Association on Mental Illness, doctors often try various dosage amounts and monitor the results through blood tests. Hypothyroidism is a result of incorrect dosages, which also causes weight gain and can be controlled by changing the prescription. Doctors also may reduce the risk of weight gain by combining the lithium regimen with other mood-stabilizing drugs such as Depakote, which may allow the lithium dosage to be reduced.

Prevention/Solution

Because of the possible weight gain, people taking lithium must pay particular attention to their diet and exercise regimen. According to the National Association on Mental Illness, doctors should monitor patents' weight weekly to prevent excessive weight gain. In order to maintain a healthy weight, you must be very careful to take in fewer calories than you burn and monitor your own weight. Let your doctor know if you continue to gain weight despite your efforts to follow a weight-loss diet.

Possibilities

A drug called topiramate can alleviate bipolar symptoms while helping patients to lose weight. Taken instead of lithium and combined with a healthy diet and exercise program, the drug may provide relief for bipolar patients who need to lose weight, according to the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. In addition to overall weight loss, topiramate also reduces total body mass, leading to improved overall health.

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