Epilepsy is a brain disorder that occurs when there are recurring, brief changes in how the brain's electrical system works. These changes in brain activity can lead to a seizure (see Epilepsy Symptoms).
Depakote works by increasing the amount of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is a natural brain chemical that stops or slows down other brain signals. Increasing GABA helps prevent the abnormal brain signals that lead to a seizure. It is also thought that Depakote may also prevent seizures by affecting sodium channels in the brain.
Depakote tablets are "delayed-release," which means they have a special coating that prevents the drug from dissolving too early in the digestive tract (which can be irritating). The beads inside Depakote Sprinkle capsules also have this special coating. Depakote is very similar to an older medication, Depakene® (valproic acid). Depakote is changed into valproic acid in the digestive tract. This (along with the special coating) helps reduce some of the side effects, compared to the older product (Depakene).
Several studies have evaluated the safety and effectiveness of this medication.
In one study, Depakote was compared to lithium (Lithobid®, Eskalith®) or a "sugar pill" (placebo) to treat people who were hospitalized with an episode of mania. After three weeks, those taking Depakote had at least as much improvement in bipolar symptoms as those taking lithium (and more improvement compared to those taking a "sugar pill").