Reversible Lithium Neurotoxicity: Review of the Literature



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Objective: Lithium neurotoxicity may be reversible or irreversible. Reversible lithium neurotoxicity has been defined as cases of lithium neurotoxicity in which patients recovered without any permanent neurologic sequelae, even after 2 months of an episode of lithium toxicity. Cases of reversible lithium neurotoxicity differ in clinical presentation from those of irreversible lithium neurotoxicity and have important implications in clinical practice. This review aims to study the clinical presentation of cases of reversible lithium neurotoxicity.

Data Sources: A comprehensive electronic search was conducted in the following databases: MEDLINE (PubMed), 1950 to November 2010; PsycINFO, 1967 to November 2010; and SCOPUS (EMBASE), 1950 to November 2010. MEDLINE and PsycINFO were searched by using the OvidSP interface.

Study Selection: A combination of the following search terms was used: lithium AND adverse effects AND central nervous system OR neurologic manifestation. Publications cited include articles concerned with reversible lithium neurotoxicity.

Data Extraction: The age, sex, clinical features, diagnostic categories, lithium doses, serum lithium levels, precipitating factors, and preventive measures of 52 cases of reversible lithium neurotoxicity were extracted.

Data Synthesis: Among the 52 cases of reversible lithium neurotoxicity, patients ranged in age from 10 to 80 years and a greater number were female (P = .008). Most patients had affective disorders, schizoaffective disorders, and/or depression (P < .001) and presented mainly with acute organic brain syndrome. In most cases, the therapeutic serum lithium levels were less than or equal to 1.5 mEq/L (P < .001), and dosage regimens were less than 2,000 mg/day. Specific drug combinations with lithium, underlying brain pathology, abnormal tissue levels, specific diagnostic categories, and elderly populations were some of the precipitating factors reported for reversible lithium neurotoxicity. The preventive measures were also described.

Conclusions: Reversible lithium neurotoxicity presents with a certain clinical profile and precipitating factors for which there are appropriate preventive measures. This recognition will help in early diagnosis and prompt treatment of lithium neurotoxicity.

Prim Care Companion CNS Disord 2012;14(1): doi:10.4088/PCC.11r01197

Submitted: April 12, 2011; accepted June 22, 2011.

Published online: January 26, 2012.

Corresponding author: Vivek H. Phutane, MD, Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, 34 Park St, New Haven, CT 06519 (

Prim Care Companion CNS Disord 2012;14(1):doi:10.4088/PCC.11r01197