Lithium Poisoning

Jonathan Baird-Gunning, Tom Lea-Henry, Lotte C G Hoegberg, Sophie Gosselin, Darren M Roberts

100 Citations (Scopus)


Lithium is a commonly prescribed treatment for bipolar affective disorder. However, treatment is complicated by lithium's narrow therapeutic index and the influence of kidney function, both of which increase the risk of toxicity. Therefore, careful attention to dosing, monitoring, and titration is required. The cause of lithium poisoning influences treatment and 3 patterns are described: acute, acute-on-chronic, and chronic. Chronic poisoning is the most common etiology, is usually unintentional, and results from lithium intake exceeding elimination. This is most commonly due to impaired kidney function caused by volume depletion from lithium-induced nephrogenic diabetes insipidus or intercurrent illnesses and is also drug-induced. Lithium poisoning can affect multiple organs; however, the primary site of toxicity is the central nervous system and clinical manifestations vary from asymptomatic supratherapeutic drug concentrations to clinical toxicity such as confusion, ataxia, or seizures. Lithium poisoning has a low mortality rate; however, chronic lithium poisoning can require a prolonged hospital length of stay from impaired mobility and cognition and associated nosocomial complications. Persistent neurological deficits, in particular cerebellar, are described and the incidence and risk factors for its development are poorly understood, but it appears to be uncommon in uncomplicated acute poisoning. Lithium is readily dialyzable, and rationale support extracorporeal treatments to reduce the risk or the duration of toxicity in high-risk exposures. There is disagreement in the literature regarding factors that define patients most likely to benefit from treatments that enhance lithium elimination, including specific plasma lithium concentration thresholds. In the case of extracorporeal treatments, there are observational data in its favor, without evidence from randomized controlled trials (none have been performed), which may lead to conservative practices and potentially unnecessary interventions in some circumstances. More data are required to define the risk-benefit of extracorporeal treatments and their use (modality, duration) in the management of lithium poisoning.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Intensive Care Medicine
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)249-263
Publication statusPublished - May 2017


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