Studies Show Depakote During Pregnancy Linked to Autism

Danish researchers have released a new study that adds to the mounting evidence linking the use of Depakote and autism among children exposed to the medication during pregnancy.

Danish researchers offer mounting evidence linking the use of Depakote and autism among children exposed to the medication during pregnancy.

A Danish study found that mothers who took the anti-seizure medication Depakote during pregnancy were five times as likely to give birth to a child diagnosed with autism as mothers who did not take the drug. The study monitored over 665,000 Danish children from 1996 to 2006, 5, 500 of whom were diagnosed with autism. Of these, 508 were born to mothers who took a valproate drug like Depakote during pregnancy. Mothers who took valproate drugs during pregnancy had a 4.42% chance of having a child with autism, while mothers who did not take the drug had only a 1.02% chance.

In April 2013, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an article titled “Prenatal Valporate [Depakote] Exposure and the Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders and Childhood Autism.” The article stated the use of Depakote during pregnancy “was associated with a significantly increased risk of autism in the offspring, even after adjusting for parental psychiatric disease and epilepsy.”

Researchers believe the drug affects the development of the nervous system, and that it happens very early in the pregnancy. This can lead to problems for women who have unplanned pregnancies who may take the drug as prescribed before they are aware that they are pregnant. Neurologists recommend that women of child-bearing age use alternative medications to treat their symptoms, or maintain a very low dose.

Depakote is a mood stabilizer that works by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter gamma amminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. Increased GABA levels prevents brain signals that can lead to seizures. Depakote is also used to treat bipolar manic episodes and migraine headaches. Side effects include tiredness, slow mental processes, nausea, tremors, hair loss and weight gain. Women who take Depakote are also more likely to develop polycystic ovarian syndrome, which can cause ovarian cysts and affect a woman’s ability to become pregnant.

Depakote use during pregnancy has also been linked to an increased risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects, extra fingers or toes (polydactyl), heart defects (including atrial septal defect), malformed limbs, skull or brain, cleft palate, and cognitive disabilities. The label includes warnings for pancreatitis, liver failure, and birth defects. The FDA has scheduled Depakote as a schedule D drug, which means it can harm fetuses and should not be taken by pregnant women.

Abbot Laboratories, the company that manufactures Depakote, was ordered to pay over $1.6 billion in fines for illegal marketing. A class-action lawsuit was filed against the company in 2012 in Illinois by 27 victims claiming that Depakote had caused various birth defects in their children, including developmental delays, spina bifida, cleft palate and bodily malformations. The company added autism to the warning label for the drug in August 2014.

If you believe your child may have been harmed by Depakote, you can find more information at


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