Depakote Side Effects

Seizure medication, Depakote (divalproex) has caused severe side effects in some people who took the drug. Some patients have experienced liver damage, birth defects, pancreatitis and other side effects which resulted in serious injury or even death.

Depakote was first introduced in 1983 as a treatment for epilepsy. It received additional FDA approval to treat bipolar disorder and migraine headaches. While the drug has helped millions, there are a number of reported Depakote side effects. Depakote side effects range from mild to fatal. Additionally, it is recommended that pregnant women do not take Depakote due to the significantly increased risk of birth defects.

Mild Depakote Side Effects

The most common reported Depakote side effect is lethargy, or tiredness. The occurrence of lethargy is shown to vary depending on characteristics of the patient. Lethargy varies based on the patient’s age, weight, and dosage amount. This Depakote side effect is most common in elderly patients. The manifestation of fatigue as a Depakote side effect can be seen in the patient’s acuity and mental processes. Elderly patients are also more likely to experience Depakote side effects such as anorexia and dehydration.

Other common Depakote side effects include:

  • Hair loss in roughly 10 percent of users
  • Weight gain in roughly 50 percent of users
  • Nausea, especially during the first month of treatment
  • Changes in menstrual cycles in females
  • Tremors, which can be worsened by caffeine and anxiety

Depakote Birth Defects

Depakote side effects can be devastating in children born to pregnant Depakote users. The FDA has rated Depakote in pregnancy category D. This means that there is sufficient evidence of birth defects in developing human embryos. It is advised that pregnant women avoid taking Depakote unless as a “last resort.”

Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is a Depakote side effect that is 12 times more likely to occur from Depakote use during pregnancy. Spina bifida causes failure of the spinal column to fully close. This causes exposure of the spinal cord, which can lead to nerve and spinal cord damage. This Depakote side effect can cause severe mental and physical disabilities.

Neural Tube Defects

Neural tube defects occur when the fetal brain or spinal cord is damaged. The FDA required a specific warning in 2009 for Depakote side effects that cause neural tube defects. Studies show that Depakote treatment drastically increases the risk of neural tube defects. A study shows that 1-in-20 pregnancies can be affected by neural tube defects. Comparatively, women who do not take Depakote during pregnancy are estimated to face a 1-in-1,500 risk of neural tube defects.

Cognitive Birth Defects

Evidence shows that Depakote side effects may manifest as cognitive deficiencies in children. Studies were conducted assessing the cognitive levels of children born to mothers taking Depakote versus other anti-seizure drugs. Evidence shows that Depakote use caused children to receive lower scores on tests such as IQ tests. Communication problems in the autism spectrum are also reported from Depakote use.

Depakote Suicide

Suicidal thoughts and tendencies are a devastating Depakote side effect. This state of mind is naturally exacerbated in patients who take Depakote for conditions such as bipolar disorder. These patients typically show preexisting extreme mood disorders caused by mental illness. In 2008, the FDA analyzed nearly 200 trials of epileptic drugs including Depakote. Research suggested that these patients experienced nearly double the risk of suicidal propensity.

Depakote Organ Damage

Depakote side effects include damage to the liver and pancreas. In 2006, the FDA required that the drug’s label feature a black-box warning indicating an increased risk of pancreatitis and liver failure. Hepatotoxicity, or chemical-induced liver damage, is a reported Depakote side effect. Evidence suggests that hepatotoxicity most typically occurs within the patient’s first six months taking Depakote. It is recommended that blood testing is periodically performed to monitor the patient’s liver function.

Depakote side effects of hepatotoxicity may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Facial edema, or swelling
  • Malaise, or a general feeling of illness

Depakote side effects of pancreatitis may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Tenderness in the abdomen

View Sources

  • “Antiseizure drug increases birth defect risk.” Adverse Event Reporting News 15 June 2010: 4+. Academic OneFile. Web. 3 Apr. 2013.
  • Carey, Benedict. “Epilepsy Drug Can Increase Risk for Newborns, Study Says.” New York Times 4 May 2007: A17(L). Academic OneFile. Web. 3 Apr. 2013.
  • “Spina Bifida.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 Jan 2013. Web. 3 Apr 2013.