Lithium May Help Huntington’s Patients Who Have Suicidal Tendencies, Study Finds

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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Lithium treatment for suicidal Huntington's patients

Lithium may be effective to eliminate suicidal symptoms in patients with Huntington’s disease (HD), according to a study titled “Huntington’s disease and suicidal behavior: The importance of lithium treatment,” published in the journal Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery.

Huntington’s disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that affects muscle coordination and leads to mental decline and behavioral symptoms. Symptoms can vary between individuals and affected members of the same family, but usually progress predictably. Early symptoms can include personality changes, mood swings, fidgety movements, irritability, and altered behavior, although these are often overlooked and attributed to something else.

Recently, lithium has been reported to reduce the distress related to lack of coordination and mood swings and to have neuroprotective properties.

Researchers led by Gianluca Serafini from the Department of Neuroscience, Rehabilitation, Ophthalmology, Genetics, Maternal and Child Health (DINOGMI), Section of Psychiatry at the University of Genoa, Italy, described the case of a 55-year-old man who was diagnosed with agitated depression and Huntington’s disease starting at the age of 53 and was followed as an outpatient by the Suicide Prevention Center of Sant’Andrea Hospital in Rome.

In addition to depression, the patient suffered from mood swings, apathy, suicidal ideation, and disabling choreic movements.

He was treated with tetrabenazine at 50 mg a day and mirtazapine 15 mg per day, but showed no clinical improvement. After 12 weeks, he received treatment with olanzapine 5 mg per day, but the mood swings, suicidal ideation, and hopelessness endured. The patient’s doctors treated him with escitalopram at 10 mg daily while mirtazapine was stopped (after 24 weeks) with only a moderate improvement of depressive symptoms.

Given the persistence of apathy and suicidal ideation at 32 weeks of treatment, lithium 150 mg daily was introduced, and a rapid and persistent improvement in his depressed mood, suicidal ideation, and hopelessness. In the following 16 weeks of treatment a relevant reduction in the distress related to choreic movements and mood swings was also reported. Lithium treatment was not associated with adverse effects during the entire period, researchers said.