Bipolar - One Drug Does Not Fit All

Lithium for bipolar disorder may not help some people and the blood may hold the answer

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Some people with bipolar disorder may not benefit from taking lithium. New research suggests that a blood test may be able to tell who will be helped by it.

A small study tested the blood of people taking lithium. They found that people who didn’t respond to the drug had changes to their blood that was different from people who did respond to lithium.

If these findings prove to be true in a larger group or people, a blood test may help doctors know if lithium will work or not.

"Talk to a psychiatrist about your medications."

Lithium is the first discovered and most widely used drug to treat bipolar disorder. It helps to control the highs and lows that come with bipolar disorder.

Some people see many benefits from taking lithium, but others do not.

Researchers at Yale University School of Medicine, led by Lori Lowthert, MD, looked at certain blood factors in 20 people who were taking lithium.

They compared the blood of people who responded to lithium and those who did not. People score on a test for symptoms dropped by 50 percent were considered to be responding to lithium.

After taking lithium for one month, they found that people who responded had higher levels of factors in the blood that protect cells and lower levels of factors that can damage cells.

The people that didn’t respond to lithium had higher levels of the damaging factors and lower levels of the protective factors.

The authors concluded that people that will respond to lithium will show a different pattern of factors in the blood than those who will not.

This was a small study, so the authors suggest repeating it with a larger group of people. 

These findings could lead to a blood test to help predict who should continue to take lithium and who should switch to another medication type.

This study was published September 12 in Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders. This study was funded by grants from the California Bipolar Foundation, the Donaghue Foundation, the Stanley Medical Research Institute and Yale University.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 26, 2012
Last Updated:
September 28, 2012