valproic acid, divalproex, Depakote, Depakote Sprinkle, Depakote ER, Depakene, Depacon, Stavzor

  • Pharmacy Author:
    Omudhome Ogbru, PharmD

    Dr. Ogbru received his Doctorate in Pharmacy from the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy in 1995. He completed a Pharmacy Practice Residency at the University of Arizona/University Medical Center in 1996. He was a Professor of Pharmacy Practice and a Regional Clerkship Coordinator for the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy from 1996-99.

  • Medical and Pharmacy Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

What is valproic acid, and how does it work (mechanism of action)?

Valproic acid and its derivative, divalproex, are oral drugs that are used for the treatment of convulsions, migraines and bipolar disorder. The active ingredient in both products is valproic acid. Divalproex is converted to valproic acid in the stomach. Scientists do not know the mechanism of action of valproic acid. The most popular theory is that valproic acid exerts its effects by increasing the concentration of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that nerves use to communicate with one another. The FDA approved valproic acid in February, 1978 and divalproex in March 1983.

What brand names are available for valproic acid?

Depakote, Depakote ER, Depakote Sprinkle, Depakene, Depacon, Stavzor

Is valproic acid available as a generic drug?

GENERIC AVAILABLE: Yes

Do I need a prescription for valproic acid?

Yes

What are the side effects of valproic acid?

The most common side effects with valproic acid therapy are:

Divalproex may have a lower incidence of stomach upset, and taking valproic acid or divalproex with food can reduce the stomach upset. Valproic acid also causes skin reactions such as alopecia (loss of hair), rash, itching and sensitivity to sunlight.

The most serious side effects due to valproic acid are liver injury, pancreatitis and abnormal bleeding. Liver injury is most common in the first 6 months of treatment. It also is more common in children, especially children less than two years old. Persons taking more than one type of anticonvulsant seem to be at higher risk. Symptoms of liver damage include jaundice, malaise, weakness, swelling in the face, loss of appetite and vomiting. Pancreatitis due to valproic acid can occur early in treatment or after several years of use. Symptoms of pancreatitis are unexplained weight loss, nausea, vomiting and severe abdominal pain. Valproic acid inhibits the formation of blood clots by interfering with the clot-promoting effects of platelets. This can cause abnormal bleeding.

Antiepileptic medications have been associated with an increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior. Anyone considering the use of antiepileptic drugs must balance this risk of suicide with the clinical need for the antiepileptic drug. Patients who begin antiepileptic therapy should be closely observed for clinical worsening, suicidal thoughts or unusual changes in behavior.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/15/2015

Quick GuideEpilepsy: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Epilepsy: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
FDA Logo

Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

RxList Logo

Need help identifying pills and medications?

Use the pill identifier tool on RxList.

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Newsletters

Get the latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors