for better mental health

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 (Epilim, Depakote) is an anticonvulsant used as a mood stabiliser.

You can find detailed information about this drug in the official Patient Information Leaflet (PIL), including what it's for, how to take it, possible side effects and safety information. This leaflet should come with your medication (usually inside the box). You can also access it online as a PDF by clicking the links here:

If a drug can come in different forms (such as tablets or liquid), there may be a separate PIL for each one. You should look at the PIL for the particular form and dose you've been prescribed. All PILs are available online on the MHRA Products website.

If you have any questions about your medication you can:

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

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 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 affect 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.

What else might I want to know?

  • About psychiatric medication. For what you should know before taking any psychiatric drug, receiving the right medication for you, and your right to refuse medication, see our pages on psychiatric medication.
  • About mood stabilisers. For what they are, how they can help, what to know before taking them and alternatives you could try, see our pages on mood stabilisers.
  • About side effects. For what to do if you experience a side effect, see our page on coping with side effects.
  • About coming off medication. For information on making your decision, planning withdrawal and withdrawal symptoms, see our pages on coming off psychiatric drugs.
  • About accessing treatment. For information on this, see our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem.
  • About interactions with recreational drugs and alcohol. For information on this, see our page on recreational drugs and medication.

We're currently reviewing all of our medication pages. Please tell us what you would like to find on this page in future via th 'Was this page useful?' buttons below.

If you have personal experience of taking this drug and would be interested in producing a blog or vlog about it to appear alongside our information, see our pages on telling your story.

This information was published in June 2020. We will revise it in 2023. 

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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