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What Are the Most Common Valproic Acid Side Effects?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Valproate or valproic acid is used to treat some seizure disorders and is also used as adjunct or monotherapy in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Possible valproic acid side effects can be classed by their frequency or they can be viewed in terms of potential severity. Generally, more severe side effects occur very infrequently, though they are worth noting because they require emergency medical intention. Milder side effects include tremors, nausea, and dizziness, among others. More serious valproic acid side effects include severe skin rashes and other severe allergic reactions.

More frequent but less severe valproic acid side effects still comprise a fairly lengthy list. It should be noted that side effects may be most noticeable when the drug is first used, some may go away over time, and some patients using valproate experience no adverse effects at all. If a patient does experience valproic acid side effects, the most common are tremors, sleepiness, headache, nausea, and acid indigestion. At least one of these may occur in about 10 to 25% of users.

Between 1-15% of users may experience diarrhea, stomach pain, reduced appetite, and weight loss. Dizziness, blurred vision, quick mood changes, and difficulty remembering can also occur. Nasal or chest congestion and hair loss are other relatively uncommon symptoms. Most of these are not of concern medically, unless they begin to cause serious problems for the user. Patients are advised to talk to the prescribing doctor about persistent and uncomfortable adverse effects.

Rare but very serious valproic acid side effects include the possibility of developing two skin conditions called Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis. Patients should report any rash with fever immediately to doctors or seek medical help at an emergency room. Allergic reaction is also possible and may result in anaphylactic shock.

Valproate can caused involuntary movement conditions of the limbs, tongue, and jaws, or impairment of speaking. It can also lead to an increase in impulsive behavior, akathisia or inner restlessness, suicidal thinking, increased symptoms of mood disorders, and hallucinations. Sudden flu-like symptoms with sore throat and fever, jaundice, amnesia, and fatigue are also possible side effects. Others include unexplained bruises and bleeding, intestinal bleeding with black stools, and disturbances in heart rhythm.

It is important that patients prescribed this drug and who are concerned about valproic acid side effects understand that it is highly unlikely most of these will ever occur. The vast majority of them occur in less than 1% of users. Studies on the drug tend to show that higher doses are likelier to result in great incidence of both minor and major adverse effects, but a higher amount of the drug may be medically appropriate.

The matter is often made more complicated when valproate is combined with additional medicines. Drugs may have overlapping side effect profiles, or when they are combined, they may increase the risk for certain side effects. Understanding what these risks are and letting prescribing doctors know when side effects occur remains one of the best ways to care for the self and advocate for the most individualized and effective treatment that causes the least discomfort.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia...
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