Specifically of concern are a reported risk of decreased IQ and a risk of autism that have been linked to the use of valproic acid. “The emerging clinical evidence showing a link between VPA [valproic acid] exposure and both cognitive function and risk of autism brings to the forefront the importance of understanding how VPA exposure influences neurodevelopment,” researchers wrote in a study published in Neurotoxicology and Teratology (found online at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov; 2/8/13).
They went on to note that behavioral studies on rats and mice show that exposure to valproic acid increases autistic-like behaviors in offspring. Those behaviors include repetitive behaviors, communication problems and social behavior issues. Studies on humans indicate similar findings, but more research is needed.
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The findings led researchers to conclude that valproate usage by a pregnant mother has a “significant negative effect” on the child’s IQ. Furthermore, this effect lasts well into childhood.
In June 2011, the FDA issued a warning about fetal exposure to Depakote and a risk of cognitive problems. The warning noted that children exposed to valproate or related products prior to birth tend to have lower IQ and cognitive test scores than children exposed to other anti-seizure medications. Among the cognitive tests included in the FDA’s warning were abstract reasoning and problem solving.
Depakote is approved to treat seizures, bipolar disorder and migraine headaches.