Background Recent data indicate that lithium use for bipolar disorder has declined over the last decade and that lithium largely has been replaced with alternate, commercially promoted medications that may or may not result in better outcomes. Purpose This article describes the rationale and study design of LiTMUS, a multisite, prospective, randomized clinical trial of outpatients with bipolar disorder. LiTMUS seeks to address whether initiating therapy at lower doses of lithium as part of optimized treatment (OPT, guideline-informed, evidence-based, and personalized pharmacotherapy) improves outcomes and decreases the need for other medication changes across 6 months of therapy. Methods LiTMUS will randomize 284 adults with bipolar disorder (Type I or II) across 6 study sites. The co-primary outcomes are overall illness severity on clinical global improvement scale for bipolar disorder and a novel measure, necessary clinical adjustments. This metric provides a composite that reflects both clinical response and tolerability. Other relevant outcomes include full symptomatic recovery, quality of life, suicidal behaviors, and moderators of suicidality. Results As of August 28th, 2009, we have consented 338 patients and randomized 281 for this study. Limitations The potential limitations of the study include an arbitrary definition of 'low, but effective' doses of lithium, lack of a placebo-controlled group, open treatment, and use of a new outcome measure (i.e., necessary clinical adjustments). Conclusion We expect that this study will inform our understanding of the effectiveness of low to moderate doses of lithium therapy for individuals with bipolar disorder.
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