Lithium is a metallic element identified as Li on the periodic table of elements. Lithium is very reactive, and the metal is used across a wide array of industries in compounds and alloys. Lithium salts (and especially lithium carbonate) are also used as mood-altering drugs, which are frequently prescribed to treat manic depression, bipolar disorder, and certain other conditions.
Because of its light weight and electrochemical potential, lithium is frequently used in batteries. Salts derived from the metal are also able to act on the brain’s neurotransmitters, which can treat headaches and correct imbalances leading to mental health issues. The Food and Drug Administration first approved of the use of salts from the metal in pharmaceuticals back in the 1970s.
While people may use lithium and its salts every day to improve their lives and power their technologies, lithium in any form can be very dangerous.
Lithium Toxicity and Lithium Products Can Have Adverse Health Consequences
AOL reported the case of a baby who swallowed a small lithium ion battery. An x-ray was taken but the baby was misdiagnosed and it was believed the baby had simply swallowed a button. The baby was sent home with the battery still lodged in his body. It ultimately destroyed three of the baby’s vertebrae before it was removed. Doctors spent 15-hours performing surgery to remove the battery, and the child had to spend eight months in a body cast to try to recover from the damage the battery caused. When the baby was finally released, his parents had to return him to the hospital next day because he had begun frothing at the mouth.
Five years after the initial treatment, he still faces mobility problems and cannot raise his head fully. Full recovery is not possible and his movements will be restricted for life. He is not the first to suffer severe consequences from ingesting a lithium battery, as a four-year-old died in 2013 from the same cause.
Batteries are shiny so can seem appealing to children, and are small enough to be easily swallowed. Once in the body, the lithium is extremely dangerous and can have devastating side effects.
While lithium batteries are not meant to be ingested, lithium drugs created with the salts from the metal are taken by patients every day. These patients, too, can face adverse effects from lithium exposure. Medline Plus warns people who take lithium daily or people who take too much lithium can be at risk of toxic levels of the substance in the body.
Lithium toxicity can result in slurred speech, dizziness, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, weaknesses, seizures, twitchy muscles, tremors in the hands, a loss of coordination in the arms and legs, heart problems, kidney failure, problems retaining salts in the body, memory problems, uncontrolled eye movement, and a host of other serious and possibly life-threatening symptoms. Both chronic and acute toxicity can cause these and other health issues.