Saturday, January 12, 2019

Finland: Lithium for Unipolar Depression.

In medicine, population wide survey has its place not forgetting that when many modern psychiatric drugs went through the so called "robust" double blind control trial, it is never really all that double blind as many of the drugs tested have side effects that could easily biased both patient and researcher. The patient realising that he/she is taking the "real" drug might want to report improvement or the opposite. The observing researcher will realise very quickly and may unfortunately be biased even if unintentional.

I remember questioning the presenters of Olanzapine on this especially as patient reported great craving for food and put on weight, the presenter refused to answer my question.

Then there is the question of Bipolar or Unipolar. Well, my view is this and Psychiatrist might not like to admit it: we might get it wrong. If risk of suicide is high why use something that might provoke suicide. The same Finnish team that did the research came up with the answer on using Lithium in Unipolar Depression!



© 2012 Am Ang Zhang


Finland & Unipolar Depression: a nationwide cohort study.


Prof Jari Tiihonen, et al/  Here are the essential points and full summary here.


Background
Little is known about the comparative effectiveness of long-term pharmacological treatments for severe unipolar depression. We aimed to study the effectiveness of pharmacological treatments in relapse prevention in a nationwide cohort of patients who had been admitted to hospital at least once as a result of unipolar depression.

Methods
Our nationwide cohort study investigated the risk of readmission to hospital in 1996–2012 in all patients in Finland who had been admitted to hospital at least once for unipolar depression (without a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder) in Finland between Jan 1, 1987, and Dec 31, 2012.

Findings
Data from 123712 patients were included in the total cohort, with a mean follow-up time of 7·9 years (SD 5·3). Lithium use was associated with a lower risk of re-admission to hospital for mental illness than was no lithium use. Risk of hospital readmission was lower during lithium therapy alone.

Interpretation

Our results indicate that lithium, especially without concomitant antidepressant use, is the pharmacological treatment associated with the lowest risk of hospital readmission for mental illness in patients with severe unipolar depression, and the outcomes for this measure related to antidepressants and antipsychotics are poorer than lithium. Lithium treatment should be considered for a wider population of severely depressed patients than those currently considered, taking into account its potential risks and side-effects.

Suicide: The Answer, my friend may be Lithium!



In recent write ups about antidepressants, there is no mention of Lithium. The Cockroach Catcher first worked with one Australian Psychiatrist that worked with Cade and I was, so to speak, very biased towards Lithium. Yes, Lithium has side effects that might be serious. But hang on, you get to live to experience it. Think about it.


"Many psychiatric residents have no or limited experience prescribing lithium, largely a reflection of the enormous focus on the newer drugs in educational programs supported by the pharmaceutical industry."


One might ask why there has been such a shift from Lithium.

Could it be the simplicity of the salt that is causing problems for the younger generation of psychiatrists brought up on various neuro-transmitters?

Could it be the fact that Lithium was discovered in Australia? Look at the time it took for Helicobacter pylori to be accepted.

Some felt it has to do with how little money is to be made from Lithium. After all it is less than one eighth the price of a preferred mood stabilizer that has a serious side effect: liver failure.


Thank goodness: someone is talking about it.

 Atacama where Lithium is extracted  © Am Ang Zhang 2015

Lithium: The Gift That Keeps on Giving in Psychiatry

Nassir Ghaemi, MD, MPH
June 16, 2017

At the recent American Psychiatric Association annual meeting in San Diego, an update symposium was presented on the topic of "Lithium: Key Issues for Practice." In a session chaired by Dr David Osser, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, presenters reviewed various aspects of the utility of lithium in psychiatry.

Leonardo Tondo, MD, a prominent researcher on lithium and affective illness, who is on the faculty of McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School and the University of Cagliari, Italy, reviewed studies on lithium's effects for suicide prevention. Ecological studies in this field have found an association between higher amounts of lithium in the drinking water and lower suicide rates.


These "high" amounts of lithium are equivalent to about 1 mg/d of elemental lithium or somewhat more. Conversely, other studies did not find such an association, but tended to look at areas where lithium levels are not high (ie, about 0.5 mg/d of elemental lithium or less). Nonetheless, because these studies are observational, causal relationships cannot be assumed. It is relevant, though, that lithium has been causally associated with lower suicide rates in randomized clinical trials of affective illness, compared with placebo, at standard doses (around 600-1200 mg/d of lithium carbonate).

Many shy away from Lithium not knowing that not prescribing it may actually lead to death by suicide. As such all worries about long term side effects become meaningless. 


Will the new generation of psychiatrists come round to Lithium again? How many talented individuals could have been saved by lithium?

APA Nassir Ghaemi, MD MPH
  • In psychiatry, our most effective drugs are the old drugs: ECT (1930s), lithium (1950s), MAOIs and TCAs (1950s and 1960s) and clozapine (1970s)
    • We haven’t developed a drug that’s more effective than any other drug since the 1970’s
    • All we have developed is safer drugs (less side effects), but not more effective
  • Dose lithium only once a day, at night
  • For patients with bipolar illness, you don’t need a reason to give lithium. You need a reason not to give lithium  (Originally by Dr. Frederick K. Goodwin)

© Am Ang Zhang 2013

Cade, John Frederick Joseph (1912 - 1980)
Taking lithium himself with no ill effect, John Cade then used it to treat ten patients with chronic or recurrent mania, on whom he found it to have a pronounced calming effect. Cade's remarkably successful results were detailed in his paper, 'Lithium salts in the treatment of psychotic excitement', published in the Medical Journal of Australia (1949). He subsequently found that lithium was also of some value in assisting depressives. His discovery of the efficacy of a cheap, naturally occurring and widely available element in dealing with manic-depressive disorders provided an alternative to the existing therapies of shock treatment or prolonged hospitalization.

In 1985 the American National Institute of Mental Health estimated that Cade's discovery of the efficacy of lithium in the treatment of manic depression had saved the world at least $US 17.5 billion in medical costs.

And many lives too!

I have just received a query from a reader of this blog about Lithium, and I thought it worth me reiterating my views here.      It is no secret that I am a traditionalist who believes that lithium is the drug of choice for Bipolar disorders.
Could Lithium be the Aspirin of Psychiatry? Only time will tell!

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