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Lithium and other mood stabilisers

Explains how lithium and other mood stabilising drugs work, how they might help you, whether to take them if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, and what alternative treatments are available.

Key facts about valproate

Valproate is an anticonvulsant drug used as a mood stabiliser. It is also known by the trade names Epilim and Depakote.

You can find detailed information about this drug in the official Patient Information Leaflet (PIL). This includes information on the medication is for, how to take it, possible side effects and safety information.

This leaflet should come with your medication, usually inside the box. Or you can download a PDF version of the PIL for your medication:

Some drugs come in different forms, such as tablets or liquid. There may be a separate PIL for each form of the drug, as well as for different doses. You should look at the PIL for the form and dose you have been prescribed.

You can also search these websites for your specific drug to find further information and PILs:

If you have any questions about your medication you can:

  • talk to your doctor, or any healthcare professional who prescribes your medication
  • speak to someone at a pharmacy
  • contact NHS 111 if you live in England
  • contact NHS 111 or NHS Direct (0845 46 47) if you live in Wales.

If you experience any side effects from your drug, you can report them to the MHRA via its Yellow Card scheme. This scheme allows the MHRA to collect information about which drugs cause which side effects and how common they are. This lets drug manufacturers give more accurate information about their medication.

The MHRA is updating its recommendations on the use of valproate. But if you’re currently taking valproate, it’s important to continue taking it unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Find out about the planned changes.

Valproate pregnancy warning

If you take valproate while you are pregnant, it can increase the risk of your child being born with birth defects and learning disabilities.

The regulators of this medicine say that you should not take valproate if you are pregnant.

They also say you should not be prescribed valproate if you are able to become pregnant, unless you have a pregnancy prevention programme in place.

What is a pregnancy prevention programme?

A pregnancy prevention programme involves:

  • using effective contraception to prevent you from becoming pregnant
  • having regular pregnancy tests
  • having an annual review to talk about your treatment.

You will also be asked to sign an Annual Risk Acknowledgement Form. This is something that your doctor will discuss with you. Signing the form means that you understand the risks with taking valproate during pregnancy. And you understand the need to avoid becoming pregnant while taking the medication.

The packaging for prescriptions of valproate may also include a visual warning showing that the medication can cause risks during pregnancy.

Should I stop taking valproate if I can become pregnant?

You should only be prescribed valproate if you can make sure that you won’t become pregnant, through a pregnancy prevention programme. But if you're thinking of stopping your medication, it's really important to speak to your doctor about doing this safely. If you stop taking valproate suddenly, it can be very dangerous.

See our page on coming off mood stabilisers for more information. Our pages on stopping or coming off psychiatric medication may also help.

What if I'm already taking valproate and I'm pregnant?

If you are taking valproate and think you could be pregnant, visit your doctor as soon as you can. You can discuss your options with them, including other medications that might be available.

Where can I find more information about the risks of valproate?

The UK Government’s website has a page of information and updates on taking valproate and pregnancy.

Somebody I know is taking valproate and is able to get pregnant, or is currently pregnant. What should I do?

If you think this information affects someone you care about, it might be helpful to show them this page. You could also encourage them to visit their doctor to discuss their options. And if you are just there to listen, this can help them feel supported.

More information about lithium and other mood stabilisers

Our pages on lithium and other mood stabilisers have more information about this type of medication. This includes how they work and how they might help you. It also covers how they might affect you if you are pregnant, their withdrawal effects and alternative treatment options.

These pages may also help:

  • About psychiatric medication. See our pages on psychiatric medication for information on what you should know before taking any psychiatric drug, receiving the right medication for you, and your right to refuse medication.
  • About side effects. See our page on coping with side effects for information on what to do if you experience a side effect.
  • About coming off medication. See our pages on coming off psychiatric drugs for information on making your decision to come off medication, planning withdrawal and withdrawal symptoms. 
  • About accessing treatment. See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem for more information on getting treatment for your mental health.

This information was published in June 2020.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References and bibliography available on request.

If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.

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