What is the optimal serum level for lithium in the maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder? A systematic review and recommendations from the ISBD/IGSLI Task Force on treatment with lithium

Willem A. Nolen*, Rasmus W. Licht, Allan H. Young, Gin S. Malhi, Mauricio Tohen, Eduard Vieta, Ralph W. Kupka, Carlos Zarate, René E. Nielsen, Ross J. Baldessarini, Emanuel Severus, the ISBD/IGSLI Task Force on the treatment with lithium

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Aims: To systematically review the existing trials on optimal serum levels for lithium for maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder and to develop clinical recommendations. Methods: Systematic literature search. Discussion of major characteristics, limitations, methodological quality, and results of selected trials. Delphi survey consisting of clinical questions and corresponding statements. For statements endorsed by at least 80% of the members, consensus was considered as having been achieved. Results: With strict inclusion criteria no studies could be selected, making it difficult to formulate evidence-based recommendations. After loosening the inclusion criteria 7 trials were selected addressing our aims at least to some extent. Four of these studies suggest better efficacy being associated with lithium serum levels in a range above a lower threshold around 0.45/0.60 and up to 0.80/1.00 mmol/L. These findings support the outcome of the Delphi survey. Conclusions: For adults with bipolar disorder there was consensus that the standard lithium serum level should be 0.60-0.80 mmol/L with the option to reduce it to 0.40-0.60 mmol/L in case of good response but poor tolerance or to increase it to 0.80-1.00 mmol/L in case of insufficient response and good tolerance. For children and adolescents there was no consensus, but the majority of the members endorsed the same recommendation. For the elderly there was also no consensus, but the majority of the members endorsed a more conservative approach: usually 0.40-0.60 mmol/L, with the option to go to maximally 0.70 or 0.80 mmol/L at ages 65-79 years, and to maximally 0.70 mmol/L over age 80 years.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)394-409
Number of pages16
JournalBipolar Disorders
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

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