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Facts and myths about the use of lithium for bipolar disorder in routine clinical practice: an expert consensus paper.

BACKGROUND: Bipolar disorder is one of the most burdensome severe mental disorders, characterized by high levels of personal and social disability. Patients often need an integrated pharmacological and non-pharmacological approach. Lithium is one of the most effective treatments available not only in psychiatry, but in the whole medicine, and its clinical efficacy is superior to that of other mood stabilizers. However, a declining trend on lithium prescriptions has been observed worldwide in the last 20 years, supporting the notion that lithium is a 'forgotten drug' and highlighting that the majority of patients with bipolar disorder are missing out the best available pharmacological option. Based on such premises, a narrative review has been carried out on the most common "misconceptions" and "stereotypes" associated with lithium treatment; we also provide a list of "good reasons" for using lithium in ordinary clinical practice to overcome those false myths.

MAIN TEXT: A narrative search of the available literature has been performed entering the following keywords: "bipolar disorder", "lithium", "myth", "mythology", "pharmacological treatment", and "misunderstanding". The most common false myths have been critically revised and the following statements have been proposed: (1) Lithium should represent the first choice for the treatment of patients with bipolar disorder; (2) lithium treatment is effective in different patients' groups suffering from bipolar disorder; (3) Drug-drug interaction risk can be easily managed during lithium treatment; (4) The optimal management of lithium treatment includes periodical laboratory tests; (5) Slow-release lithium formulation has advantages compared to immediate release formulation; (6) Lithium treatment has antisuicidal properties; (7) Lithium can be carefully managed during pregnancy.

CONCLUSIONS: In recent years, a discrepancy between evidence-based recommendations and clinical practice in using lithium treatment for patients with bipolar disorder has been highlighted. It is time to disseminate clear and unbiased information on the clinical efficacy, effectiveness, tolerability and easiness to use of lithium treatment in patients with bipolar disorder. It is necessary to reinvigorate the clinical and academic discussion about the efficacy of lithium, to counteract the decreasing prescription trend of one of the most effective drugs available in the whole medicine.

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