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Depakote Dangers


Depakote (generic name: divalproex sodium) is a drug approved by the FDA to treat seizure disorders, manic episodes linked to bipolar disorder, and migraine headaches.  There is new evidence that women who take Depakote during pregnancy are more likely to have a child with autism.  Also, there are increased risks for injury to the baby’s brain and spinal cord.

What Is Depakote?

There is no doubt that Depakote has a number of good uses.  It can help to give a better quality of life for people who suffer from seizures and bipolar disorder.

What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder.  Diagnosis may occur around age three, but may come later in life.  People with autism (or a lesser form, Asperger syndrome) may have difficulties socializing and communicating.  It is often associated with repetitive behaviors, motor coordination problems, and gastrointestinal problems.  Some people with autism have exceptional abilities in math and music.

What are Neural Tube Defects?

The neural tube is the tissue that, as an embryo grows, develops into the brain and spinal cord.  Neural tube defects affect that tissue.  In Spina bifida, for example, the tube does not properly close before birth, causing a host of problems including leg paralysis or weakness, bladder and bowel problems, orthopedic problems, and limited mental capacity.

Should I Take Depakote During Pregnancy?

This is a tough question, one that requires consultation with doctors and a lot of thought.  The warning label (see the package insert here) for Depakote states:

Do not stop taking Depakote without first talking to your doctor. Stopping Depakote suddenly can cause serious problems.

So, if you are on Depakote and become pregnant, you must talk with a doctor before stopping the drug.  This is because stopping it suddenly can cause non-stop seizures.  A doctor may wish to gradually wean your body off of Depakote.

Regarding pregnancy, the manufacturer states:

Depakote may harm your unborn baby. Taking Depakote during pregnancy puts your baby at risk for serious birth defects. The most common birth defects affect the brain and spinal cord, called spina bifida or neural tube defects, and occur in 1 to 2 out of every 100 babies born to mothers who use Depakote during pregnancy. These defects can begin in the first month, before you know you are pregnant. Other birth defects can also happen. If you take Depakote while you are pregnant, your child is at risk for having a lower IQ. Women who are pregnant must not take Depakote to prevent migraine headaches. All women of childbearing age should talk to their doctor about using other treatments instead of Depakote. There may be other medicines to treat your condition that have a lower chance of causing birth defects and decreased IQ in your child. If you use Depakote, use effective birth control. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you become pregnant while taking Depakote. Taking folic acid supplements before getting pregnant and during early pregnancy can lower the chance of having a baby with neural tube defects.

So, the manufacturer recommends that you use other drugs if you are (or are planning to become) pregnant, if at all possible.  This is especially so when Depakote is used for migraines.  In some cases, however, particularly when it is used as an anti-seizure medication, it may not be possible.

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