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Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2009 Dec;43(12):1096-104. doi: 10.3109/00048670903279937.

Is lithium in a class of its own? A brief profile of its clinical use.

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  • 1Discipline of Psychological Medicine, University of Sydney, Australia.


Lithium is a unique and effective psychotropic agent with a long-standing history of clinical use yet it is increasingly overlooked in lieu of newer agents. The purpose of the present paper was to succinctly review the therapeutic profile of lithium particularly with respect to the treatment of mood disorders and consider its unique properties and clinical utility. A comprehensive literature review pertaining to lithium was undertaken using electronic database search engines to identify relevant clinical trials, meta-analyses and Cochrane reviews. In addition articles and book chapters known to the authors were carefully reviewed, and the authors appraised published guidelines. The evidence from these sources was rated using National Health and Medical Research Council evidence levels and synthesized according to phenotype and mood states. In addition, the authors have drawn upon published guidelines and their own clinical experience. Lithium has specificity for mood disorders with proven efficacy in the treatment of both unipolar depression and bipolar disorder. The recommendations are based predominantly on Level I evidence, but its clinical use has to be tempered against potential side-effects and the need for ongoing monitoring. In practice, lithium should be considered a first-line option in bipolar disorder, especially in prophylaxis and when onset of action is not an imperative. Lithium has been in use in modern medicine for 60 years and as such has been tried and tested across the full range of mood disorders. Arguably, lithium is the only true mood stabilizer and because of its unique properties is in a class of its own.

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