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Depression health centre

Antidepressants plus lithium

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have depression. It tells you about antidepressants plus lithium, a treatment used for depression. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

We don't know. This treatment is for people who don't get better when they take antidepressants. There isn't enough good research to say for certain whether it works.

What is it?

You'll be offered this treatment only if you've tried antidepressants for at least four weeks and found that they don't work on their own. Your doctor may then add lithium to your treatment. You don't stop taking your antidepressants.

You can take lithium as a tablet or a liquid. It's normally used to treat a serious mental illness called manic depression, in which a person swings between high and low moods. It can also be used as an extra treatment for people with other types of depression. [180]

Most people get lithium from a psychiatrist, not from their doctor. You'll have tests before you take this drug to make sure your heart is working properly. This is because lithium can cause heart problems in some people.

You'll also need regular blood tests to check you're having the right dose. Too much lithium can be dangerous. And too little could mean the treatment won't work. Most people need blood tests every week for about four weeks, then one every three months. [181]

You'll need to carry a card with you that tells you:

  • How to take this treatment

  • What your blood test results are

  • What to do if you miss a dose

  • What side effects to expect

  • What other drugs to avoid.

Lithium has several brand names, including Camcolit, Liskonum, and Priadel. You can take it several times a day or as one big dose before you go to bed. [182]

You can take lithium with any kind of antidepressant. [183] There are three main types of antidepressants.

Other antidepressants include venlafaxine (Efexor) and reboxetine (Edronax). Venlafaxine is sometimes described as an SSRI.

How can it help?

We don't know for certain that this treatment can help.

  • Some research found that 4 in 10 people taking lithium plus antidepressants got better. [184]

  • But in another study only 1 in 10 people having this treatment got better. [185]

In studies, getting better usually means having at least a 50 percent improvement in symptoms. Symptoms include feeling down, not being able to concentrate, losing your appetite and having sleep problems.

Last Updated: June 20, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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