Depakote (divalproex sodium or valproic acid) is a prescription medication used for controlling seizures, epilepsy, migraine and bipolar and other mood disorders. It is believed that the drug works by increasing GABA neurotransmitters in the brain and helping to restore chemical balance in the brain.
The FDA first approved the use of Depakote for epilepsy in 1983, with approval for bipolar disorder and migraine prevention coming in 1995 and 1996 respectively. Abbot Laboratories, the makers of Depakote, faced and pled guilty to federal charges in 2012, after advertising the drug as a method of controlling aggression and agitation in elderly patients and as a schizophrenia treatment. The drug was not FDA-approved for either use, and studies provided no evidence that Depakote helped in either of these situations.
Depakote Side Effects
Depakote use has been linked to some side effects, ranging from mild to life-threatening.
- Blurred vision
- Impaired memory
- Ringing ears
- Increased drowsiness
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
- Painful or irregular menstrual cycles
The more severe side effects include:
- Unexplained bleeding
- Increased bruising
- Chest pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Uncontrollable eye movements
- Shivering and feeling cold
- Swelling in the feet and hands
- Rapid breathing
- Loss of consciousness
In addition to these side effects, the use of Depakote has also been linked to serious health risks involving the liver, brain, pancreas and suicide.
Depakote Liver Damage
Life-threatening liver damage has been reported with using Depakote, with most cases occurring within six months of use in children under two years of age. This damage may continue even after the drug is no longer being used. Symptoms of liver damage include:
- Nausea and uncontrollable vomiting
- Decreased appetite
- Dark urine
- Localized pain on the right side on the stomach
- Yellowing of the eyes or skin
- Swelling in the face, arms, hands, legs, and feet
This is a serious disorder of the brain that has occurred in patients with urea cycle disorders. Encephalopathy is a rare and potentially fatal disease of the brain that may cause sudden mood or mental changes, vomiting, unexplained weakness, and confusion.
The development of pancreatitis, which is life threatening, has also been linked to using this drug. Symptoms of this condition are:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain that increases after eating and radiates into the back
- Stomach tenderness
If you take Depakote and have these symptoms, emergency medical treatment is necessary.
Depakote has been linked to increased suicidal thoughts or actions, which may present as:
- Thinking about death and dying
- Attempting suicide
- New or increased depression
- New or increased anxiety
- Restlessness or agitation
- Panic attacks
If these symptoms are present, users should contact their physician immediately.
Depakote and Pregnancy
Due to the risk of danger to unborn children, the FDA requires a black box warning label identifying the risks of taking Depakote. Use of Depakote by pregnant women has led to birth defects in up to 2 out of every 100 babies born after exposure, even if the drug was taken only during the first month of pregnancy. The most common are:
- Spina bifida
- Neural tube defects
- Decreased IQ
Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should speak with their doctors about other potential treatment options that don’t have such a high risk of harming the unborn child. It is also recommended that women who take Depakote also use birth control throughout the treatment period.
Depakote has been linked to severe medical conditions and birth defects. If you or a loved one was harmed due to using this drug, compensation might be available to you. Contact an attorney to determine your rights after taking Depakote.