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Valproate to treat bipolar depression

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have bipolar disorder. It tells you about valproate, a treatment used for bipolar depression. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

We're not sure. We didn't find any good studies on using valproate to treat bipolar depression.

What is it?

Valproate is sometimes called a mood stabiliser. This means it makes you less likely to have mood swings.

It's also used to treat a condition called epilepsy. If you have epilepsy, you get fits ( seizures). Valproate can prevent these. So you may hear it called an anticonvulsant drug too. (Convulsion is the medical name for a seizure.)

Its other names are valproic acid, semisodium, and divalproex.

Valproate comes as tablets. You take them two or three times a day. Its brand name is Depakote. You need a prescription from your doctor for this medicine.

Doctors can also use valproate to treat mania and to prevent a relapse for people with bipolar disorder.

How can it help?

We don't know if valproate can help with bipolar depression. There haven't been any good studies to tell us.

How does it work?

Other anticonvulsant drugs (such as lamotrigine) work for bipolar depression. So valproate might work too. But we don't really know why.

We do know that valproate works for seizures by stopping too much activity from building up in your brain. So it may work by calming down this activity.

Can it be harmful?

We don't know if valproate is harmful when you take it for bipolar depression. But valproate does have side effects when you take it for mania. So you may get them when you take it for bipolar depression, too.

About 1 in 10 people taking valproate for mania feel dizzy. [145] You may also: [146]

  • Feel sick

  • Get shaky (called tremor)

  • Feel tired

  • Lose some hair

  • Find it hard to do tasks that need a lot of concentration, like studying.

One small study found that women taking valproate were more likely to get heavy or irregular periods. [64]

Like many drugs for bipolar disorder, valproate is not recommended if you're pregnant. This is because it can harm your growing baby. To learn more, see Drugs for bipolar disorder in pregnancy.

Self-harm and suicide

There is a very small risk that taking valproate might make you more likely to think about suicide or harming yourself. [65] If you are worried about any thoughts or feelings you have, see your doctor straight away.

How good is the research on valproate to treat bipolar depression?

We didn't find any good studies ( randomised controlled trials) on using valproate to treat bipolar depression.


randomised controlled trials

Randomised controlled trials are medical studies designed to test whether a treatment works. Patients are split into groups. One group is given the treatment being tested (for example, an antidepressant drug) while another group (called the comparison or control group) is given an alternative treatment. This could be a different type of drug or a dummy treatment (a placebo). Researchers then compare the effects of the different treatments.


A seizure (or fit) is when there is too much electrical activity in your brain, which results in muscle twitching and other symptoms.

For more terms related to Bipolar disorder


For references related to Bipolar disorder click here.
Last Updated: July 17, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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