How Does Depakote Affect the Brain?

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Doctor writing a prescription (Image: Dutko/iStock/Getty Images)

What Is Depakote?

Depakote is the brand name for the medication divalproex sodium (or valproate semisodium). Depakote is a medication that affects the brain and is prescribed to manage many neurological diseases and conditions, including mania episodes of bipolar disorder, seizures and epilepsy and the prevention of migraine headaches. It may be prescribed off-label to treat other mental health illnesses, such as schizophrenia.

The Chemicals and How They Work

Depakote works to manage and stabilize moods with the chemical ingredient valproate semisodium. The brain naturally produces a chemical neurotransmitter called GABA (gamma amino-butyric acid) that helps to calm and relax nerves, thereby stabilizing moods. Depakote works to increase the amount of GABA production to help stabilize erratic moods caused by mental illnesses, epilepsy and migraines. These health conditions can cause electrical impulses in the brain to be released more quickly and more often than normal, which causes an increase in stimulation of the nerves in the brain and resulting in erratic behavior, headaches or seizures. The brain may not produce enough GABA to soothe overstimualted nerves, so Depakote works to stimulate production of the calming chemical the brain needs.

Inhibiting GABA Breakdown

Not only does Depakote stimulate production of GABA, but it inhibits breakdown of the chemical. When GABA is broken down, it becomes ineffective at managing overstimulated nerves in the brain, allowing symptoms. Preventing the breakdown of the chemical allows the GABA to work more efficiently and for longer, preventing mood swings and quickly firing electrical impulses in the brain.

Precautions

Depakote does have a number of potential side effects, including serious liver damage and pancreatitis. Depakote should only be taken under a doctor's supervision, and any side effects should be immediately reported to your doctor.

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