By the way, doctor: What are the side effects of lithium?

Q. What can you tell me about the side effects of lithium? I've heard it causes thyroid and memory problems.

A. Lithium is a drug used to treat people with bipolar disorder (sometimes known as manic-depressive illness), a psychiatric disorder characterized by extreme shifts in mood, from excessively euphoric (mania) to desperately sad or hopeless (depression). In the manic phase, such individuals may be elated, require little sleep, or have inflated notions about themselves. In the depressive phase, they may have low energy, experience changes in eating or sleeping, or feel guilty, hopeless, or suicidal. Episodes of mania and depression may occur within days of each other, be separated by months or years, or occur in a "mixed" state (such as irritability or agitation and a sad or unpleasant mood). People with bipolar disorder can also experience delusions, paranoia, and other impaired perceptions of reality.

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