for better mental health

Lithium and other mood stabilisers

Explains what mood stabilising drugs are, what they're used for, possible side effects and information about withdrawal.


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 electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC).

Warning to anyone who is or could become pregnant while using valproate

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 now say that valproate should not be taken by people who are able to become pregnant, unless there is a pregnancy prevention programme in place.

What is a pregnancy prevention programme?

The pregnancy prevention programme will involve using contraception to prevent you from becoming pregnant, regular pregnancy tests and 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. By signing the form it means that you understand the risks involved of taking valproate during pregnancy the need to avoid becoming pregnant whilst taking the medication.

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

Should I stop taking valproate if I can become pregnant?

Because of the risks, valproate should only be used if you can ensure that you won’t become pregnant. If you are thinking of stopping medication, it is really important to talk to your doctor first on how you can do this safely. If you stop taking valproate suddenly, it can be very dangerous. (Our pages about stopping or coming off psychiatric medication have more information about coping while coming off medication and where you can get support.)

What if I am already taking valproate and I am pregnant?

If you are taking valproate and think you could be pregnant, visit your GP as soon as you can so that you are able to discuss your options and discuss what other medications might be available.

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

If you have been prescribed valproate and want to find out more information about the risks you can visit the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency website for the latest guidance.

My friend/partner/family member is taking valproate and is able to get pregnant/is pregnant. What should I do?

If you think these changes affect someone you care about, it might be helpful to show them this information and encourage them to visit their GP to discuss their options and how the changes in prescribing affect them.

Changes to you treatment can often be really worrying but just being there to listen could help them feel supported.

What else might I want to know?

If you have any questions about your medication you can talk to your doctor, someone at your pharmacy or call NHS 111.

We're currently reviewing all of our medication pages. Please tell us what you would like to find on this page in future via '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 April 2018. 

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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