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Getting a Second Opinion on My Bipolar Medication Saved Me

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

Getting a second opinion from another doctor is OK. This is something I wish someone had told me a long time ago. When I was first diagnosed with type 2 bipolar disorder, I was told these exact words:

• What is Bipolar disorder?

“This is something that isn’t curable and you will be on medication for the rest of your life.”

I was 19 at the time, so I didn’t really take in the depth of those words. As with many other people, I was on medication trials for a very long time to find the right medication for me. Some of them, my body rejected which would put me straight back to square one, and it was frustrating. But there was one medication I stayed on up until recently, and that was lithium.

I questioned my psychiatrist at the time on what the long-term effects of lithium use could have on me as it’s a medication that needs to be monitored and if your lithium levels are too high, you can go into lithium toxicity. This can involve trembling, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pains, muscle weakness and drowsiness. It can cause serious damage and even be fatal if not treated in time. It’s a scary thing to think that could happen, but my psychiatrist told me there are people who have stayed on lithium all of their lives and they’ve been fine, so I have nothing to worry about.

What he didn’t highlight is not every person is the same, and in fact, your body can start to reject medication even years later. And that’s exactly what happened to me.

Last year, I noticed I was having stomach pains in the morning, I took lithium late at night, so I made a small mental note to watch how often this happened. A couple of weeks later, it was becoming more frequent and I was having increased bowel movements, trembling and nausea. So, I decided to call a doctor to get a second opinion just in case. I was told it probably had nothing to do with my medication, so I accepted that and put it down to my anxiety, as my anxiety can be quite physical.

But then it kept happening … and then I started panicking. I ended up going to the hospital to get a lot of tests because one night I started shaking uncontrollably. All the tests came back negative saying I was fine, except they didn’t test my lithium levels. I asked for that to be done again, even though I mentioned it at the start. Finally, I got the results which proved my suspicions were correct and my lithium levels were high.

I thought, “Finally, I have an answer and I can fix this,” but it wasn’t that easy. Once again, I was told I would have to wait because my doctor wasn’t comfortable altering my dose and would rather a psychiatrist do it. I asked when that would be and they said, “I’m not sure, just continue your same dose.” This did not sit well with me and I was not about to risk my levels going any higher, so I rang an out-of-hours doctor and got another opinion. He agreed with me and said it needed to be altered ASAP as you can’t mess around with lithium. My dose was altered right then and there and still to this day, nearly a month later, I’m waiting for that call back from a psychiatrist.

I think it’s incredibly important people learn all about the medications they take and any symptoms they need to be wary of. If you are ever in doubt of an opinion you receive from a doctor, it’s OK to get a second one. Trust in yourself because it never hurts to get another opinion, you know your body better than anyone.

Getty image by monkeybusinessimages

Originally published: February 16, 2021
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