Is there anything scarier than a TV commercial for prescription drugs? When that announcer reads the list of warnings, you wonder why anyone would ever take something so bad for you. Depakote side effects are nastier than the usual side effects of other drugs. Depakote is a serious drug that doctors prescribe in severe situations, and often when nothing else works, such as epilepsy. Users feel effects ranging from mild to severe. Since its introduction in the 1980s, Depakote has lived a rollercoaster ride of good, bad -- and very ugly.
With more than 30 years of research, however, Depakote side effects are well-documented. Your doctor will, therefore, be able to safely prescribe the medicine you need without worrying it will do more harm than good.
What Is Depakote?
Depakote is the name brand of the drug divalproex sodium. First introduced in 1983 as an anticonvulsive medicine, doctors prescribed it to treat seizures in patients with epilepsy. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug to treat bipolar patients suffering a manic episode in 1995. Chronic migraines followed a year later. Manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, the company moved production of Depakote to their spinoff company, AbbottVie in 2013.
The National Institutes of Health lists Depakote as a moderately-priced prescription drug. Costs range from $13 to $89 for a one-month supply. There are several generics available, however, that brings the out of pocket costs down. The manufacturer has a helpline for those who can't afford it, too.
How Does Depakote Work?
Depakote is a valproate, which is a short-chain fatty acid that interacts with different chemicals in the brain. Researchers are unsure exactly how valproates work. What they do know, however, is that they are on the front-line in the battle against bipolar disorder. Patients with no luck finding treatment for mania report great success adding Depakote to their mental health regimen.
Scientists believe that the drug increases the chemical GABA in the brain. GABA blocks brain waves, known as neurotransmitters. They stop your mind from sending and receiving signals associated with seizures, migraines and manic episodes. According to the FDA, Depakote is often used for unapproved or "off-label" purposes. They warn against it because of Depakote side effects, some of which are life-threatening.
Depakote Side Effects Can Be Severe
Because of the dangers of Depakote side effects, the Physicians Desk Reference gives very specific instructions on how to prescribe it. Depakote is heavily regulated. Ignoring its prescription rules is a violation of Federal Law. The FDA requires Depakote to carry a "black box warning" because its side effects can be fatal.
The greatest risk for the first six months of treatment is liver failure. Because the risk increases with younger people, doctors rarely prescribe Depakote for children under two. For treatment of epilepsy, a patient must be 10-years-old. Those with bipolar disorder must be 16.
The most common symptoms of liver failure include vomiting that does not go away, loss of appetite, and pain the in the right side of your stomach. Additionally, you might suffer from yellowing of your skin or eyes (jaundice), dark urine or swelling of your face, hands, arms, feet, and legs.
Severe Depakote side effects also include pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can be fatal, so patients should watch for symptoms including severe nausea and vomiting. Also, you need to contact your doctor if you experience abdominal pain, especially pain that radiates to the back, severe pain after eating or tenderness when pressing on the stomach.
Other very rare but extreme Depakote side effects include increased ammonia on the brain, leading to mental disorders like Reye Syndrome. Suicidal behavior and ideation are also a common side effect of valproates. Bleeding and other blood disorders and cooling of the blood leading to hypothermia are other extreme side effects of the medication.
The severity of Depakote side effects makes you wonder why a doctor would prescribe it all. The benefits of Depakote, however, when administered properly, far outweigh the risks in most cases.
Mild Depakote Side Effects
As with all drugs, Depakote has a list of typical drug interaction side effects. They include a variety of minor things like headaches, nausea, and dizziness. Drug companies are required to report side effects that occur more often in those taking the drug than those taking a sugar pill.
Depakote side effects in this area are typical and common. Twenty-two percent of Depakote trial users experienced nausea. That's seven percent higher than the 15 percent who experienced nausea on a sugar pill. Only 12 percent vomited, as opposed to nine percent on a placebo.
Other Common side effects of Depakote include:
Accidental injury, abdominal pain and weakness, indigestion and mild rashes also appeared in a small number of patients. Minor Depakote side effects don't deter doctors from prescribing it to those in need.
How Depakote Interacts with Other Drugs
Depakote side effects include drowsiness. Therefore, any prescription or recreational drug that also causes drowsiness will interact with Depakote badly. That includes alcohol, marijuana, and barbiturates. Never drive or operate heavy machinery under these conditions.
People taking low-dose aspirin can continue taking it with Depakote, but some of the other common prescription and over-the-counter drugs, however, have moderate interactions with Depakote. A moderate interaction can make side effects worse and decrease a medicine's success rate.
Doctors want you to notify them if you're taking any of the following:
You must notify your doctors of herbal and homeopathic product use as well because taking supplements, herbs and OTC drugs can change the therapeutic range of Depakote and increase Depakote side effects. Prescribing the proper dosage decreases that risk, which is why it is important your doctor knows what else is in your body that might interact with the Depakote.
Depakote and Birth Defects
In 2013, the FDA issued a warning that Depakote causes birth defects. Spina Bifida, lowered IQ, pancreatitis and cleft palate are a few of the worst case scenarios for Depakote users. Pregnant women, therefore, are prescribed Depakote only when no other options are available.
The risk of birth defects with Depakote is so severe that doctors prescribe birth control to women who take it and who are of childbearing age.
The warning in 2013 that Depakote side effects included birth defects led to an onslaught of lawsuits. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, women on Depakote were 12 times more likely to see birth defects.
Because of the severity of the defects, families suing Abbott Labs won tens of millions of dollars. The argument stated that the product was defective because the label didn't stress birth defects. Juries agreed. Therefore, doctors are now extra careful when prescribing Depakote.
Valproates often cause suicidal thoughts and actions. Lawsuits from grieving families ask for relief, funeral costs and punitive damages, therefore, are common. The risk of suicidal thoughts is clearly labeled, so these types of lawsuits will rarely see success.
In 2012, the United States Justice Department charged Abbott Laboratories with misbranding their product. They launched a civil suit on behalf of the government to pay for damages.
The investigation found that Abbott Labs marketed their product for uses the FDA did not approve it to treat. Abbott said that blocking brain waves battles most mental disorders. They went so far as to sell Depakote under a different name, which led to the misbranding charge. Abbott Labs pleaded guilty and paid $1.5 billion for their mistake. The money covers what the government paid in Medicaid and Medicare expenses from Depakote side effects.
Should I Be Concerned with Depakote Side Effects?
Of course, you should. You should also listen to what your doctor tells you or at the very least get a second opinion. Depakote side effects can be extreme, and they are all scary. They are, however, nothing compared to the ailments they treat. With the proper information and the care of a doctor, millions have success with anticonvulsives like Depakote every day.