Lithium Discontinuation Results in Only Modest Improvement in Renal Function Compared to Continued Treatment

June 10, 2013 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

kidneyLithium is one of the most important treatments available for bipolar disorder. Unfortunately long-term use can be complicated by renal (kidney) dysfunction and, in rare cases, renal failure. A 2012 study by Rej et al. of geriatric patients with a history of lithium use and symptoms of chronic renal failure found that after two years, differences in outcomes for patients who continued lithium use versus stopping this treatment were not significantly different, though the lithium continuers had slightly less renal function after 60 months.

Editor’s Note:  This study addresses one of the important unanswered questions about what to do when kidney function starts to diminish (observed as high levels of creatinine (Cr) or low Cr clearance) in patients on chronic lithium treatment.

The findings of Rej et al. suggest that the advantages of discontinuing lithium are not huge. Renal function may deteriorate a bit less (or not at all) in those who stop lithium. However, if someone is highly responsive to lithium and the “creatinine creep” upwards is slow, that patient might be able to proceed with careful monitoring and lithium continuation. Where other treatment options are readily available, the discontinuation route might be a good choice.

This study brings some much-needed randomized longitudinal data (if not a definitive recommendation) to bear on a difficult clinical decision that may have to be addressed when lithium is used in long-term approaches to bipolar disorder.