Seroquel vs Lithium

Listen to the article instead of reading through it.


For patients with bipolar disorder or other types of mood disorders, certain drugs that alter the concentrations of compounds in the brain known as neurotransmitters can assist in stabilizing manic highs and depressive lows and managing symptoms. Seroquel and Lithium are two such drugs frequently prescribed for these conditions. They each impact different neurotransmitters in the brain but both have mood-stabilizing effects on patients with bipolar disorder. Seroquel is an atypical antipsychotic drug, working by antagonising multiple neurotransmitters including dopamine type 2 (D2), serotonin type 2 (5HT2), and histamine H1 receptors. On the contrary, Lithium is classified as a mood stabilizer; its precise mechanism isn't completely understood but it's believed to help strengthen nerve cell connections in brain regions that are involved in regulating mood, thinking and behavior.

What is Seroquel?

Quetiapine (the generic name for Seroquel) is an atypical antipsychotic, which marked a significant development in the treatment of mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This class of drugs differs significantly from the first wave of antipsychotics known as typical antipsychotics. Quetiapine was first approved by the FDA in 1997. It works primarily by blocking receptors in the brain including dopamine, serotonin, and adrenergic receptors. This results in reducing symptoms like hallucinations and improving concentration.

On the other hand, Lithium is a mood stabilizer that has been used for decades to treat manic episodes associated with bipolar disorder. Its exact mechanism isn't fully understood but it's thought to help strengthen nerve cell connections in brain regions that are involved in regulating mood, thinking and behavior.

Seroquel differs notably from lithium due to its wider range of receptor activity resulting potentially more side effects than lithium which mainly includes weight gain and drowsiness among others.

What conditions is Seroquel approved to treat?

Seroquel is approved for the treatment of several psychiatric conditions, including:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar I disorder (as monotherapy or with lithium or divalproex)
  • Major depressive disorder as an add-on therapy to anti-depressants
  • Acute manic episodes associated with bipolar I disorder.

How does Seroquel help with these illnesses?

Seroquel, also known as quetiapine, helps to manage symptoms of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia by adjusting the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. It does this by blocking their receptors on neurons, thus regulating their interaction with these neurotransmitters. Dopamine and serotonin are both chemical messengers that play crucial roles in mood regulation, cognition, motivation, reward-seeking behavior, sleep patterns amongst other things. Certain mental health conditions like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia may be associated with an imbalance in these chemicals. Therefore, by modulating the action of dopamine and serotonin through Seroquel use can help stabilize patients' moods while reducing episodes of mania or depression experienced in conditions like bipolar disorder or lessen hallucinations and delusions seen in schizophrenia.

What is Lithium?

Lithium, marketed under various brand names including Lithobid and Eskalith, is a mood stabilizer primarily used for the treatment of bipolar disorder. It functions by effecting sodium transport in nerve and muscle cells and influences reuptake of serotonin or norepinephrine. This action helps to decrease the intensity of manic episodes. Lithium has been recognized for its mood-stabilizing properties since the mid-20th century.

As a non-antipsychotic medication, it does not work in the same way as atypical antipsychotics such as Seroquel (quetiapine). Its lack of antipsychotic action means that its side-effect profile is also different to that of antipsychotics; specifically, lithium does not typically cause significant weight gain or metabolic syndrome (common side effects of atypical antipsychotics like Seroquel).

The therapeutic benefits on mania can be beneficial for treatment of bipolar disorder, especially in patients who do not respond well to typical atypical antipsychotic drugs such as Seroquel.

What conditions is Lithium approved to treat?

Lithium is a cornerstone in the treatment of several psychiatric disorders. Specifically, it is approved for:

  • Bipolar disorder: Lithium helps to stabilize mood swings which are characteristic of this condition.
  • Acute manic episodes: It can help control symptoms such as restlessness, rapid speech and poor judgment that can accompany these phases.
  • Maintenance therapy for bipolar disorder: Ongoing use of lithium may decrease the frequency and severity of manic episodes.

How does Lithium help with these illnesses?

Lithium, much like its counterpart Seroquel, plays a crucial role in managing bipolar disorder. It primarily functions by stabilizing mood and reducing extremes of behavior, both mania and depression. Lithium influences several neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), glutamate, dopamine etc., thus helping to restore the balance among these chemicals. Its precise mechanism is not well known but it appears that lithium helps prevent abnormal activity while still allowing normal functioning of these important chemical messengers. As opposed to Seroquel which impacts mainly serotonin levels along with some influence on dopamine receptors; lithium has a broader spectrum of action impacting several neurotransmitters thereby providing more comprehensive control over bipolar symptoms.

How effective are both Seroquel and Lithium?

Both quetiapine (Seroquel) and lithium have established histories of success in treating patients with bipolar disorder, although they were approved by the FDA decades apart. Since they act through different mechanisms, they may be prescribed under different circumstances. The effectiveness of Seroquel and lithium in alleviating manic episodes was directly studied in a double-blind clinical trial; both drugs exhibited similar efficacy in managing symptoms of mania as well as comparable safety profiles. In this study, none of the different metrics used to measure efficacy in treating bipolar disorder showed significant differences between patients receiving Seroquel and those receiving lithium.

A 2004 review demonstrated that quetiapine is effective at relieving symptoms of bipolar disorder from the first week of treatment. Its side effect profile is generally favorable over many other mood stabilizers, and it's well-tolerated even among elderly populations. This same research indicated that quetiapine has become one of the most widely-prescribed antipsychotic drugs globally due to its broad-spectrum activity against both manic and depressive phases.

A 2016 review indicated that lithium appears more effective than placebo for preventing relapse in bipolar disorder, with similar efficacy to other common mood stabilizers. Nonetheless, lithium is typically considered a first-line treatment option. Significant research on its use involves monotherapy or co-prescription alongside an antipsychotic like Seroquel when necessary for rapid control during acute mania episodes or severe depressive bouts not responding adequately to antidepressants alone. It's also worth noting that while both medications are useful tools for managing bipolar disorder, potential side effects such as weight gain (Seroquel) or kidney issues (lithium), should be taken into consideration when choosing a suitable treatment plan.

abstract image of a researcher studying a bottle of drug.

At what dose is Seroquel typically prescribed?

Oral dosages of Seroquel for bipolar disorder typically range from 300-800 mg/day, divided into two or three doses. Studies suggest that a dose of 300 mg/day is often enough to manage symptoms in many people. In the case of children and adolescents aged between 10–17 years, they may be started on 50 mg/day. For either demographic, dosage can be increased after one week if there's no response. However, it's critical not to exceed the maximum limit of 800 mg/day under any circumstance.

At what dose is Lithium typically prescribed?

Lithium treatment is typically initiated at a dosage of 600–900 mg/day, divided into two to three doses. The dose can then be increased gradually to achieve therapeutic blood levels, generally between 0.6 and 1.2 mEq/L for maintenance therapy in adults over an extended period. A maximum daily dose usually ranges up to 2400 mg/day depending upon the individual response and tolerance. Blood lithium levels should be monitored regularly during therapy because the margin between the therapeutic and toxic dose range is small with this medication. Also, it's important not to make any abrupt changes in your lithium dosage without consulting your healthcare provider as it may lead to side effects or destabilize your mood.

What are the most common side effects for Seroquel?

Common side effects of Seroquel can include:

  • Drowsiness, fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Increased appetite and weight gain
  • Upset stomach, nausea or vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache

On the other hand, Lithium commonly causes:

  • Hand tremors
  • Thirstiness and increased urination
  • Nausea or diarrhea
  • Weight gain
  • Kidney problems in long-term use -Leukocytosis (increase in white blood cells)

Always remember to consult with your healthcare provider if you experience any side effects from these medications.

abstract image of a patient experiencing side effect

Are there any potential serious side effects for Seroquel?

While Seroquel and Lithium are both used to treat bipolar disorder, they can have different side effects. For Seroquel, some rare but serious side effects include:

  • Thoughts about suicide or self-harm
  • Signs of an allergic reaction such as difficulty breathing, swelling in your face or throat
  • Vision disturbances like blurred vision or tunnel vision
  • Cardiovascular symptoms including fast heartbeats, fluttering in the chest and shortness of breath which may lead to feeling faint

Lithium usage also comes with its own set of potential risks that you should watch out for:

  • Low sodium levels - characterized by headache, confusion, slurred speech, severe weakness and loss of coordination
  • Severe nervous system reactions which might cause rigid muscles, feverish sweating ,confusion and uneven heartbeat leading to tremors.

In case any symptoms resembling serotonin syndrome appear: agitation,hallucinations,sweating,muscle stiffness,twitching,vomiting etc., get immediate medical help. It is important that you discuss these potential risks with your healthcare provider before starting either medication so that you're aware what signs require urgent attention.

What are the most common side effects for Lithium?

Common side effects associated with lithium treatment include:

  • Dry mouth, increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Hand tremors
  • Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Acne-like rash
  • Restlessness or a feeling of agitation.

Remember that these side effects may not affect everyone and there are ways to manage them if they occur. If you're considering taking Lithium for bipolar disorder, it's crucial to discuss the potential benefits and risks with your healthcare provider.

Are there any potential serious side effects for Lithium?

While lithium is typically considered safe for most patients, it's crucial to monitor for potential side effects. These can include:

  • Indications of an allergic reaction: hives, itching or skin rash
  • Potential signs of lithium toxicity: vomiting, diarrhea, tremors in your hands, vision changes such as blurred vision or seeing halos around lights
  • Changes in heart rhythm including slow heartbeats or feeling lightheaded
  • Unusual behavior or mood swings
  • Hallucinations (seeing things that are not there) or confusion
  • Increased urination and thirst which could indicate a kidney issue
  • Seizures (convulsions)

If you experience any of the above symptoms while on lithium therapy, seek immediate medical attention.

Contraindications for Seroquel and Lithium?

Both Seroquel and Lithium, along with most other medications used to treat bipolar disorder, may potentially worsen symptoms of depression in some individuals. If you notice your depressive symptoms intensifying, or an increase in suicidal thoughts or behaviors while on these medications, it's crucial to seek immediate medical attention.

Neither Seroquel nor Lithium should be taken if you are using, or have recently stopped using monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors. It's vital that you always inform your doctor about any medication you're currently taking; MAOIs will require a period of around 2 weeks to clear from the body before starting treatment with either Seroquel or Lithium to prevent dangerous interactions.

How much do Seroquel and Lithium cost?

For the brand name versions of these drugs:

  • The price of 60 tablets of Seroquel (100 mg) averages around $1100, which works out to approximately $18–36/day, depending on your dose.
  • The price for a month's supply (30 tablets) of lithium carbonate (300 mg), sold under several brand names including Lithobid and Eskalith, is about $130. This works out to roughly $4.30/day.

If you're taking a higher dosage range for Seroquel—say 400mg per day or more—it will be significantly costlier than using Lithium on a per-day treatment basis. However, it's crucial not to make cost the primary consideration when deciding between these medications; instead focus on effectiveness and side effect profiles as guided by your healthcare provider.

For their generic counterparts—which are much cheaper—the prices are:

  • Quetiapine fumarate (generic for Seroquel)—a pack with 30 x 100mg tablets costs from around $10 up to about $15 in some pharmacies: this means that daily doses can have an approximate cost ranging from as low as just over $.33 up to $.50.

  • Generic lithium carbonate comes packaged in quantities starting at 90 capsules/tablets up through sizes such as 500 or even larger; the total average retail price might typically fall somewhere in the vicinity of perhaps $20-$35: if we consider just those figures alone then they would seem to suggest potential daily costs coming out anywhere from mere pennies upwards towards maybe $.10-.15 per day if 'maxing-out' toward dosages like ~1,200mg/daily+.

Popularity of Seroquel and Lithium

Quetiapine, known by the brand name Seroquel, is an atypical antipsychotic used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In 2020, it was estimated that Seroquel had been prescribed to about 1.8 million people in the United States. It accounted for just over 20% of prescriptions for atypical antipsychotics. Its usage has been increasing since its introduction in the late 1990s due to its efficacy and lower risk of side effects compared to older typical antipsychotics.

Lithium salts have long been a mainstay treatment for bipolar disorder and are still widely used today despite being discovered over half a century ago. In contrast with newer medications like quetiapine, lithium's use has remained relatively steady over time with around 1 million prescriptions filled in the USA in 2020. Lithium makes up approximately under 10% of overall mood stabilizer prescriptions but remains a first-line treatment due to its proven effectiveness particularly for manic episodes.


Both Seroquel (quetiapine) and Lithium have a long history of usage in patients with bipolar disorder, with numerous clinical studies indicating their effectiveness compared to placebos. In some instances, these two medications may even be combined for greater efficacy, but such combinations require careful oversight by healthcare professionals due to potential contraindications. The drugs operate through different mechanisms: Seroquel works primarily by blocking certain neurotransmitters in the brain including dopamine and serotonin while Lithium acts on various chemical processes that help regulate mood.

Seroquel is often used as an initial treatment option for acute manic or depressive episodes associated with bipolar disorder. On the other hand, lithium is typically employed as a first-line maintenance therapy to prevent relapse of manic or depressive episodes.

Importantly both Seroquel and lithium are available in generic form which can offer significant cost savings especially for those paying out-of-pocket. However, like most psychotropic medications they might need an adjustment period meaning therapeutic effects might not be immediately noticeable.

The side effect profiles between these two drugs vary: while both are generally well-tolerated; common side effects of Seroquel include drowsiness and weight gain whereas Lithium use frequently leads to increased thirst and urination among others. Patients taking either medication must closely monitor their moods particularly when initiating therapy; should you notice worsening symptoms or develop suicidal thoughts it’s vital you seek medical attention promptly.