Lithium is an alkaline ion being used since 19th century. After its widespread use in psychiatric disorders, observed side effects caused skepticism about its therapeutic efficacy. Despite several disadvantages, lithium is one of the indispensible drugs used in affective disorders, especially in bipolar disorder. It became a necessity for physicians to recognize its side effects since lithium is still accepted as a gold standard in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Adverse effects of chronic administration of lithium on several organ systems are widely known. In this article metabolic effects of lithium on thyroid and parathyroid glands, body mass index and kidneys will be discussed along with their mechanisms, clinical findings, possible risk factors and treatment. One of the most common side effect of lithium is hypothyroidism. It has the same clinical and biochemical properties as primary hypothyroidism and observed as subclinical hypothyroidism in the first place. Hypothyroidism, even its subclinical form, may be associated with non-response or inadequate response and is indicated as a risk factor for development of rapid cycling bipolar disorder. Therefore, hypothyroidism should be screened no matter how severe it is and should be treated with thyroid hormone in the presence of clinical hypothyroidism. Weight gain due to lithium administration disturbs the compliance to treatment and negatively affects the course of the illness. Increased risk for diabetes, hypertension, ischemic heart disease and stroke because of weight gain constitute other centers of problem. Indeed, it is of importance to determine the risk factors before treatment, to follow up the weight, to re-organize nutritional habits and to schedule exercises. Another frequent problematic side effect of lithium treatment is renal dysfunction which clinically present as nephrogenic diabetes insipidus with the common symptoms of polyuria and polydipsia. Nephrogenic diabetes insipidus develops because of urinary concentration defects due to the detrimental effects of lithium on re-absorption of water and sodium at the level of collector tubules. Close screening of renal functions is very important in the prevention of renal damage during treatment with lithium. Moreover, it is also of importance to screen serum lithium levels as lithium intoxication episodes may increase the risk of renal failure. As a conclusion lithium still preserves its indispensability in affective disorders. Clinicians should have current knowledge about the side effects of lithium and take preventive measures to apply such an important treatment to the patients.
Lithium, Side Effects, Thyroid, Parathyroid, Weight Gain, Renal Functions