Bipolar Disorder and Chronic Kidney Disease

It turns out I know more people with bipolar disorder than I’d thought. Of course, that led me to wonder again what, if anything, this might have to do with CKD. That’s just the way my mind works. Everything – and I do mean everything – leads back to CKD for me. So, as usual, I started asking them questions and poking around on the internet.

It seems that most of them are taking lithium to help control the bipolar disorder. Okay, I’ll bite: what is lithium? Drugs.com at https://www.drugs.com/lithium.html has quite a lot to say about this drug, but I’ll start with the basic definition:

Lithium affects the flow of sodium through nerve and muscle cells in the body. Sodium affects excitation or mania.

Lithium a mood stabilizer that is a used to treat or control the manic episodes of bipolar disorder (manic depression). Manic symptoms include hyperactivity, rushed speech, poor judgment, reduced need for sleep, aggression, and anger.

Lithium also helps to prevent or lessen the intensity of manic episodes.”

Notice sodium is mentioned. Keep that in mind while we backtrack for a definition of bipolar disorder. It seems I jumped right in without giving you some of the necessary background information. I’ll rectify that right now.

The National Institute of Mental Health at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml tells us:

“Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

There are three types of bipolar disorder. All three types involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely ‘up,’ elated, irritable, or energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very ‘down,’ sad, indifferent, or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.

  • Bipolar I Disorder— defined by manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least 2 weeks. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depressive symptoms and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible.
  • Bipolar II Disorder— defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes that are typical of Bipolar I Disorder.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder (also called Cyclothymia)— defined by periods of hypomanic symptoms as well as periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years (1 year in children and adolescents). However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode.

Sometimes a person might experience symptoms of bipolar disorder that do not match the three categories listed above, which is referred to as ‘other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders’ .”

In the July 3rd, 2017, blog, I wrote about those who already have CKD and then develop bipolar disorder.

“Kidney.org at https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/lithium has me downright frightened for my friend…

“How does lithium cause kidney damage?
Lithium may cause problems with kidney health. Kidney damage due to lithium may include acute (sudden) or chronic (long-term) kidney disease and kidney cysts. The amount of kidney damage depends on how long you have been taking lithium. It is possible to reverse kidney damage caused by lithium early in treatment, but the damage may become permanent over time.

What is nephrogenic diabetes insipidus?
The most common problem from taking lithium is a form of diabetes due to kidney damage called nephrogenic diabetes insipidus. This type of diabetes is different than diabetes mellitus caused by high blood sugar. In nephrogenic diabetes insipidus, the kidneys cannot respond to anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), a chemical messenger that controls fluid balance. This results in greater than normal urine out-put and excessive thirst. It can be hard to treat nephrogenic diabetes insipidus.”

As we can see, this is not the first time I’ve written about a dual diagnose of these two diseases – one mental, one physical – and how they affect each other. One of the interesting facts I found is that you need to tell your doctor if you have kidney disease when he prescribes lithium. None of my friends has CKD yet, although one is under surveillance (if that’s the proper word) since she’s having some decline in her eGFR.

Remember I asked you to keep that sodium reference in mind? One problem with lithium is that it requires you to include sodium in your diet. As a CKD patient, you’re asked to limit your sodium intake. You can’t do both at once. This is from WebMD at https://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder/guide/bipolar-disorder-lithium#2:

“Tell your doctor about history of cancerheart diseasekidney diseaseepilepsy, and allergies. Make sure your doctor knows about all other drugs you are taking. Avoid products that are low in sodium (salt) since a low sodium diet can lead to excessively high lithium levels.

So what can you do to protect your kidneys if you must take lithium for your mental health? This is what Psychiatric Times at https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/6-ways-protect-kidneys-while-prescribing-lithium has to say about the subject:

Tip 1. Avoid toxicity

The link between lithium and renal dysfunction may be explained by exposure to toxic lithium levels. Toxic levels kill renal cells, and that damage builds up every time the level rises above the toxic line….

Tip 2. Keep the level low

Keeping the lithium level as low as possible can prevent renal impairment. The ideal level needs to be personalized and tends to fall with age….

Tip 3. Dose lithium once a day

Dosing lithium once in the evening reduces the risk of renal problems….

If high serum levels are needed to treat active mania, dosing twice a day may be necessary to avoid toxic peaks. The line of toxicity is different for each patient because it’s defined by symptoms.…

Tip 4. Drinking and urinating too much

Polyuria and polydipsia are common adverse effects of lithium (30% to 80%), and they are not always benign. When severe, they may indicate nephrogenic diabetes insipidus (NDI), which means that changes in the renal tubules are impeding the kidneys ability to concentrate the urine. Those changes raise the risk of future renal impairments.

Besides stopping lithium, the main treatment for NDI is amiloride, a potassium sparing diuretic (5 mg po qd). Amiloride may prevent further renal problems by reducing fibrotic changes in the kidneys…. This medication is best managed through consultation with the medical team because it carries a risk of hyperkalemia, particularly in patients with renal insufficiency or diabetes.

Tip 5. Consider N-Acetylcysteine

N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) is an antioxidant that can protect and even reverse renal toxicity, including toxicity from lithium…. NAC is part of a healthy diet, and the capsule form is safe, well-tolerated (the main risk is constipation), and inexpensive. Sounds like a winner, but there is one catch. The renal studies…were all done in animals.

However, there is another reason to use NAC in bipolar disorder. This supplement is effective for bipolar depression in some, but not all, studies… and those benefits are more pronounced in the medically ill….

The dose in bipolar disorder (2000 mg/day) is about twice the amount that was used for renal protection (10 mg/kg)….

Tip 6. Measure

Renal function should be monitored every 3 to 6 months on lithium. Older patients benefit from more frequent monitoring, as do those with a history of toxicity, high serum levels, or drug interactions. Creatinine is usually sufficient, but a more accurate measure of renal function is the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR)….

Laboratory changes that should prompt a nephrology consult include:

  • eGFR < 30 ml/min/1.73m2
  • Creatinine ≥ 1.5 mg/dL
  • A decline of eGFR by more than 4 ml/min/1.73m… per year….”

There’s more, much more, on this site if you’re interested.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

 

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