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Europeans Restricting Valproate (Depakote) Use in Women


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Regulators across Europe are moving to ban or restrict use of the anti-seizure drug valproate (Depakote) in women who could become pregnant.

The European Union may impose new restrictions to prevent most women and girls of child-bearing age from obtaining the drug.

This would be waived only under exceptional circumstances, according to statements made recently by France’s Agence Nationale de Securite du Medicament, and the European Medicines Agency.

In April, Britain banned the drug for women and girls of child-bearing age unless they take part in a special pregnancy prevention program.

Researchers say thousands of babies have been born with birth defects as a result of their mothers taking the drug during pregnancy.

Valproate is the active ingredient in the medication Depakote. Doctors prescribe Depakote to treat epilepsy, control mania in bipolar disorder and prevent migraine headaches. Sanofi manufactures it also under the brands Depakine and Epilim.

Depakote Side Effects Include Birth Defects

Studies link Depakote use to serious side effects and risks. Depakote side effects include birth defects in children whose mothers took Depakote during pregnancy.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 40 infants are born with spina bifida and about 35 with cleft palate each year in the U.S. because of valproate use by pregnant women.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a safety alert in 2013. The alert advised pregnant women not to take valproate to prevent migraine headaches. The medications were found to decrease IQ scores in children whose mothers took them during pregnancy.

The agency also discouraged use of the drugs for epilepsy and manic episodes during pregnancy.

Michele Kling, a spokeswoman for the March of Dimes, told Drugwatch that the organization has urged doctors to be very cautious about prescribing valproate to female patients of child-bearing age.

“However, I am not aware of efforts to further restrict this drug in the U.S. at this time.”

Michele Kling

The 2013 FDA alert was spurred by a study showing that children exposed to valproate products in the womb had decreased IQs at age 6 compared to children exposed to other anti-epileptic drugs.

The FDA also noted an increased risk of birth defects in babies whose mothers take valproate during pregnancy.

AbbVie faced 619 Depakote lawsuits in the U.S. in early 2018. People suing the company blame Depakote for birth defects.

Children Whose Mother Used Depakote During Pregnancy ‘Will Never Live a Normal Life’

The Financial Times reported last year that between 2,150 and 4,100 children were born with at least one serious birth defect after exposure in the womb to valproate. The study spanned from 1967 — when the drug was first introduced in France — to 2016.

Another report estimated there were between 400 and 450 French babies affected by the drug between 2006 and 2014.

The BBC reported that about 20,000 children in the U.K. have disabilities caused by valproate since the 1970s.

In Ireland, at least 400 children were reportedly born with birth defects and developmental issues since the drug was licensed there in 1983.

Karen Keely, an Irish woman, testified in London that she had three children with birth defects caused by valproate.

“Two of my three boys require life-long care and will never live a normal life, will never be able to have children or get married,” Keely said, according to the Irish Times. “The effects of sodium valproate have been unbearable.”

The Financial Times likened the situation to the thalidomide scandal, “one of the darkest cases in pharmaceutical history.” In that scandal, authorities estimate 10,000 children were born with malformed limbs around the world between 1956 and 1963.

Elaine Silvestrini
Written By Elaine Silvestrini Writer

Elaine Silvestrini is an award-winning journalist with 30 years of experience covering state and federal court systems. She joined Drugwatch in 2017. Her coverage for Drugwatch has been cited in the CDC’s Public Health Law News and the USA Today Network. Some of her qualifications include:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention certificates in Health Literacy
  • Experience as an assistant investigator for the Federal Public Defender
  • Loyola Law School Journalist Law School Fellowship
Edited By
Emily Miller
Emily Miller Managing Editor

11 Cited Research Articles writers follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, court records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and interviews with qualified experts. Review our editorial policy to learn more about our process for producing accurate, current and balanced content.

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  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, April 4). Birth Defects. Key Findings: Use of Antiepileptic Medications During Pregnancy And The Potential Impact On Birth Defects. Retrieved from
  4. Reuters. (2018, April 24). UK bans Sanofi epilepsy drug without pregnancy prevention program. Retrieved from
  5. Reuters. (2018, June 12). EU endorses new measures to protect women from valproate epilepsy drug. Retrieved from
  6. Walker, M. (2018, April 18). Are EU Rules on Women and Antiepileptics Too Strict? Retrieved from
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  8. Greg, M. (2018, June 12). French regulator looking to ban epilepsy drug valproate. Retrieved from
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  10. U.K. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. (2018, April 24). Valproate banned without the pregnancy prevention programme. Retrieved from
  11. BBC. (2018, April 24). New ban on epilepsy drug in pregnancy. Retrieved from
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