The New News about Lithium: An Underutilized Treatment in the United States

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018 Apr;43(5):1174-1179. doi: 10.1038/npp.2017.238. Epub 2017 Oct 4.


Lithium use for the treatment of mood disorders remains quite low, particularly in the United States compared with some European countries. Mogens Schou pioneered the study of lithium for prophylaxis of the recurrent mood disorder and encouraged its greater use. In an effort to further address the appropriate role of this drug, the multiple assets of lithium beyond its well-known antimanic effect are reviewed, and a brief summary of its side effects is outlined. It appears that lithium has positive effects in depression and suicide prevention, cognition, and reducing the incidence of dementia. It increases the length of telomeres and has positive effects in prevention of some medical illnesses. Lithium side-effect burden, especially its association with end-stage renal disease, may be less than many have surmised. New data indicate the importance of long-term prophylaxis after a first manic episode to lessen episode recurrence, allow cognition to recover to normal, and prevent various aspects of illness progression. After a first manic episode, 1 year of randomized treatment with lithium was superior to that of quetiapine, suggesting the importance of having lithium in the treatment regimen. Given the highly recurrent and progressive course of bipolar disorder sometimes even in the face of conventional treatment, the role and enhanced use of lithium deserves reconsideration.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bipolar Disorder / drug therapy
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Dementia / drug therapy
  • Depression / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Lithium / adverse effects*
  • Lithium / pharmacology
  • Lithium / therapeutic use*
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Suicide / prevention & control
  • Telomere Homeostasis / drug effects
  • United States


  • Lithium