Depakote, known generically as valproic acid and divalproex sodium, is a mood stabilizing medication. Actually in the family of anticonvulsants, Depakote is used in the treatment of moderate to severe bipolar disorder. While also approved to treat severe migraines and epileptic seizures, Depakote is primarily used to combat the manic and strong mood changes associated with bipolar episodes. While it is not known exactly how Depakote works in the treatment of bipolar disorder, it is believed that it stimulates the increased release of “feel good” chemicals in the brain. Depakote is available in regular tablet form, extended release and delayed release capsules. For people who have difficulty with capsule medication, Depakote may be sprinkled on food.
Why is Depakote Used?
Depakote has a number of advantages over other mood stabilizers. It is typically absorbed more quickly and works much faster than other medications. While lithium is commonly prescribed for bipolar disorder, Depakote has been shown to be more effective against the significant swings in mood from depression, to manic, to hyperactivity or frenzy. In addition, a number of people see no results at all from lithium treatment, or are unable to take the drug due to adverse side effects or reactions. Depakote users typically report fewer side effects. Depakote is often sufficient by itself, but can also be used in combination with other drugs including antidepressants. It may be added to a lithium or tegretol regimen for patients who are not responding well enough to those medications alone. The minimum effective dose is approximately 50 mcg/ml. Once the dosage goes beyond 100mcg, the positive effects of the drug do not improve but side effects can get more serious.
While severe side effects are rare, they can still occur. In many cases the milder side effects disappear after the patient becomes more accustomed to the medication. The most commonly reported side effects are upset stomach, uncontrolled trembling, weight loss or gain, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss and abdominal pain. Less common side effects are extreme sleepiness or drowsiness, skin rashes, dizziness, and restlessness. Due to the chance for significant drowsiness, users of Depakote should be extremely careful when driving, working, operating machinery or doing other dangerous or complex tasks. Depakote may also make it more difficult to concentrate. More serious complications that may occur during or after Depakote use include liver disease, hepatotoxicity, increased suicidal thoughts, and pancreatitis. Signs of liver disease include vomiting, loss of appetite and swelling of the face and hands. Regular liver tests are recommended in the early stages of Depakote use to monitor a patient’s response to the drug. Symptoms of pancreatitis are severe gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and abdominal pain. Generally, pregnant women should avoid Depakote as it can turn dangerous to the unborn child. It can cause spina bifida and other serious birth defects.