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Currently, the evidence for lithium as a maintenance treatment for bipolar disorder type II (BD-II) remains limited. Guidelines commonly extrapolate recommendations for BD-II from available evidence for bipolar disorder type I (BD-I). Comparing the impact of lithium discontinuation is one way of assessing effectiveness in both groups.
To compare the impact of lithium discontinuation on hospital admissions and self-harm in patients with BD-I or schizoaffective disorder (SZD) and patients with BD-II or other bipolar disorder.
Mirror-image study, examining hospital admissions within 2 years before and after lithium discontinuation in both patient groups. This study was part of a retrospective cohort study (LiSIE) into effects and side-effects of lithium for maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder as compared with other mood stabilisers.
For the whole sample, the mean number of admissions/patient/review period doubled from 0.44 to 0.95 (P<0.001) after lithium discontinuation. The mean number of bed days/patient/review period doubled from 11 to 22 (P = 0.025). This increase in admissions and bed days was exclusively attributable to patients with BD-I/SZD. Not having consulted with a doctor prior to lithium discontinuation or no treatment with an alternative mood stabiliser at the time of lithium discontinuation led to more admissions.
The higher relapse risk in patients with BD-I/SZD suggests a higher threshold for discontinuing lithium than for patients with BD-II/other bipolar disorder. In patients with BD-II/other bipolar disorder, however, judged on the impact of discontinuation alone, lithium did not appear to prevent more severe depressive episodes requiring hospital admission.
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