For more than 40 years, Li+ has been used to treat mania. While it is relatively inert in individuals without a mood disorder, lithium carbonate is effective in 60 to 80% of all acute manic episodes within 5 to 21 days of beginning treatment. Because of its delayed onset of action in the manic patient, Li+ is often used in conjunction with low doses of high-potency anxiolytics (e.g., lo-razepam) and antipsychotics (e.g. haloperidol) to stabilize the behavior of the patient. Over time, increased therapeutic responses to Li+ allow for a gradual reduction in the amount of anxiolytic or neuroleptic required, so that eventually Li+ is the sole agent used to maintain control of the mood disturbance.
In addition to its acute actions, Li+ can reduce the frequency of manic or depressive episodes in the bipolar patient and therefore is considered a mood-stabilizing agent. Accordingly, patients with bipolar disorder are often maintained on low stabilizing doses of Li+ indefinitely as a prophylaxis to future mood disturbances. Antidepressant medications are required in addition to Li+ for the treatment of breakthrough depression.
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