Lithium for Cluster Headaches

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
lithium Lithobid

How It Works

It is unclear how lithium prevents cluster headaches. It may affect the function of the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that regulates sleep cycle, body temperature, and pituitary gland activity. Some experts believe that altered function of the hypothalamus is the cause of cluster headaches.

Why It Is Used

Lithium may be used to prevent occasional and chronic cluster headaches. Lithium costs less than some other medicines.

How Well It Works

Lithium works best to prevent chronic cluster headaches.1 It is sometimes combined with other medicines, such as corticosteroids or ergotamine, for more effective treatment.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor right away if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Signs of overdose, which include:
    • Diarrhea.
    • Drowsiness or confusion.
    • Lack of coordination.
    • Lose of appetite.
    • Muscle weakness.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Slurred speech.
    • Tremor.
    • Blurred vision.
    • Ringing in your ears.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Mild tremor of the hands.
  • Frequent urination.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

If you are taking lithium, you will need to have regular blood tests to monitor the level of lithium in your blood. You may also need to have your thyroid gland and kidney function watched during long-term use of lithium.

Keep the amount of sodium you get in your diet the same. Your doctor will check the sodium levels in your blood to make sure the lithium does not cause a side effect called hyponatremia (low sodium).

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

Women who use this medicine during pregnancy have a slightly higher chance of having a baby with birth defects. If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you and your doctor must weigh the risks of using this medicine against the risks of not treating your condition.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Capobianco DJ, Dodick DW (2006). Diagnosis and treatment of cluster headache. Seminars in Neurology, 26(2): 242–259.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Colin Chalk, MD, CM, FRCPC - Neurology
Last Revised May 14, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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