Healthy Living

What Is Valproic Acid?

What Is Valproic Acid?

Generic Name: Valproic Acid

Brand Name: Valproate Sodium, Depacon, Depakene, Stavzor


Valproic acid is an anticonvulsant that works by restoring or increasing the level of certain chemicals in the brain. This medication can be used alone or in combination with other types of seizure medications. 

Valproic acid is used for the treatment of abnormal moods, such as mania in people who have bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder, episodes of mania, or episodes of depression caused by certain diseases. 

This medication is also used to prevent migraines. However, it does not relieve migraine headaches that have already started. 

Important Notes

  • Valproic acid should not be used by pregnant women for the prevention of migraine headaches
  • When taking this medication for manic episodes or seizures, do not stop or start the use of valproic acid without your doctor's advise. 
  • Valproic acid should not be used by people with liver disease, those with a genetic disorder called Alpers disease, especially in children 2 years old and below, and individuals with urea cycle disorder. 
  • This medication may cause life-threatening liver damage, which tends to occur within six months of therapy. Children who are younger than 2 years old have a higher risk of developing liver damage. 
  • Serious birth defects can also occur in babies who are exposed to valproic acid before birth. These birth defects usually affect the baby's brain and spinal cord, which often lead to lower intelligence. 
  • Women who become pregnant during valproic acid therapy must immediately inform their doctor since this medication can harm the fetus. 
  • Valproic acid may also cause serious damage to the pancreas, which may happen during the treatment process. Call your doctor right away if you have an ongoing abdominal pain that radiates to the back, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, dark-colored urine, swelling of the face, or jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).


Valproic acid comes in the form of capsules, delayed-release tablets, extended-release tablets, sprinkle capsules, and liquid form (syrup). The extended-release tablets of valproic acid are usually taken once daily, while the capsules, sprinkle capsules, delayed-release tablets, and syrup form are taken two or more times a day. It is also recommended to take this medication at the same time each day. 

To prevent having an upset stomach, take valproic acid with food. Carefully read and follow the prescription label. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if there are parts you do not understand.  

The capsules, extended-release tablets, and delayed-release capsules should be swallowed whole. They should not be crushed, chewed, or split. Sprinkle capsules can be swallowed whole or can be opened to sprinkle the content on a teaspoon of pudding, applesauce, and other soft food. Swallow the mixture right away after preparation. Unused mixtures should not be stored for later use. Valproic acid syrup should not be mixed into carbonated drinks. Strictly follow your doctor's prescription. Do not take more or less of this medication. 

Valproic acid products are differently absorbed by the body, which is why one product cannot be submitted for another. Your doctor may adjust your dose if there is a need for you to change valproic acid products. A low dose is usually prescribed by your doctor at the start of treatment. Your dose may gradually increase later on. 

Do not stop taking valproic acid even if you already feel well. Consult your doctor first before stopping this medication. Suddenly stopping the use of valproic acid may cause life-threatening seizures. The doctor will gradually decrease your dose to avoid experiencing severe effects. Valproic acid can only help control your condition, but not cure it.

This medication is also sometimes prescribed to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), particularly when it comes to their aggressive outbursts. 

Side Effects

The common side effects of this medication may include:

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any signs of an allergic reaction, such as:

Call your doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Upper abdominal pain that radiates to the back
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Jaundice
  • Swelling of the face

These symptoms may occur in people who have problems in their liver or pancreas. You should also inform your doctor if you develop new or worsening symptoms, which include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood or behavior changes
  • Panic attacks
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Impulsivity 
  • Irritability
  • Aggressiveness
  • Restlessness
  • Physically or mentally hyperactive
  • Suicidal thoughts

You should also call your doctor right away if you have any of the following side effects:

  • Changes in mental state
  • Confusion
  • Worsening seizures
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Tiredness
  • Feeling cold
  • Vomiting
  • Unusual bleeding in your gums, mouth, or nose
  • Easy bruising
  • Presence of purplish red spots under the skin
  • Severe skin reaction
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Burning eyes
  • Swelling of your face or tongue
  • Signs of inflammation in the body (flu-like symptoms, swollen glands, muscle weakness, trouble breathing, chest pain, worsening cough, or numbness)

Additional Information

People taking the sprinkle capsule form of valproic acid may see some medication beads in their stool, which is normal. 

Valproic acid can also interfere with laboratory results, particularly when testing urine for ketones. For this reason, people with diabetes should inform their doctor that they are taking valproic acid before undergoing ketone testing. It is also important to inform your doctor and laboratory personnel if you are taking this medication before having any type of laboratory test. 

Do not give or let other people take your prescription drug. You can ask your pharmacist if you have questions about prescription refills. Keep a list of all your nonprescription and prescription medications, including any dietary supplements, vitamins, and minerals you are taking. Bring this list with you whenever you have an appointment with your doctor.