Approximately one in 26 people in the United States will develop epilepsy during their lifetime, with 150,000 new cases of the condition reported each year, says the Epilepsy Foundation. The neurological disorder is common in both adults and children. At least half of the cases begin during childhood, and the condition becomes increasingly common among those aged 65 and older. Epilepsy patients of all ages are prescribed drugs to eliminate and reduce the occurrence and intensity of the seizures, as the neurological condition causes a disturbance in nerve cell activity in the brain. Valproate, the anti-seizure drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is viewed as an effective treatment for epilepsy patients of all ages with all seizure types to help them lead normal lives, says New York University's Langone Medical Center. While the multi-purpose drug can also treat migraine headaches, pains, and bipolar disorder, its side effects can end up doing more harm than good in the immune systems of adults and especially children.

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Common Side Effects

Valproate is considered an antimanic and a mood stabilizer for patients who suffer from epilepsy, migraine headaches, and bipolar disorders. According to The National Library of Medicine, the drug is commonly available as sodium valproate or valproic acid — under brand names like Depacon, Depakene, Stavzor, or Valproic — that is taken orally or injected into the body to control and inhibit brain cell activity. Although people who take valproate report few to no complaints, common side effects can impose a series of health risks on a patient. If side effects persist for several days, calling a doctor to stop or reduce the drug can be an effective prevention tool against the worsening of symptoms.

Hair Loss

Valproate-induced hair loss occurs in five to 10 percent of patients who take valproate acid. Stopping the use of valproate will result in new hair growth but hair often regrows in a different texture. While it remains unknown whether a high dose of valproate acid is responsible for increased hair loss, the Langone Medical Center suggests taking selenium and other vitamin supplements to lessen the effects of valproate on hair.

Tremor

High valproate levels in the bloodstream can result in tremors or shaking in the hands or other parts of the body. The frequency and intensity of the tremors tend to fluctuate throughout the day, depending on the valproate levels in the bloodstream over time. According to Epilepsy.com, anxiety, caffeine, and low blood sugar are contributing factors to worsened tremors.

Upset Stomach

An upset stomach from valproate consumption can be relieved if the drug is taken on a full stomach. The result of this side effect is most likely linked to taking other medications for seizures — such as Tegretol, which causes similar side effects — in combination with valproate.

Weight Gain

Increased body mass index affects 30 to 50 percent of patients who take valproate. Weight gain commonly affects more women than men and children, with the average gain at 15 lbs. for adults. The Langone Medical Center suggests patients to exercise and have a reduced-calorie diet to prevent excessive weight gain.

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Serious Side Effects

While the common side effects of the anti-seizure drug can often be resolved with proper dieting and exercise, some serious side effects can lead to detrimental health issues in adults and children. The use of valproate for many years can make patients prone to the following long-term side effects below:

Osteoporosis

Although bone loss can be regulated with calcium and vitamin-D intake, patients who take valproate for many years suffer increased bone loss. If you take valproate to treat seizures, migraine headaches, or bipolar disorder for many years, you should consult your doctor to seek possible bone loss treatment.

PCOS

Women who are currently under valproate drug treatment are found to be diagnosed with PCOS, a condition characterized by hormonal imbalance. In a review published in Epilepsy Currents, Cynthia L. Harden, M.D., proposes that with epilepsy's known adverse effects on luteinizing hormone pulsatility — controlling hormone secretion — can put women at risk of PCOS. Therefore, valproate can be a contributing factor or the cause of PCOS.

Cardiovascular Disease

Weight gain is a common side effect of valproate that can evolve into a serious side effect. While the average weight gain for valproate in adults is 15 lbs., a continual increase can put patients at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and other illnesses, according to Langone Medical Center. To prevent obesity, patients should monitor their weight closely and follow a healthy lifestyle.

Liver Failure

Seen as the most common serious reaction to valproate consumption, liver failure commonly occurs within the first six months of medication, says Langone Medical Center. Those most susceptible to liver failure are children under two years of age, especially if they are taking valproate in combination with other seizure drugs or have been diagnosed with another serious disorder. Children and adults, however, have a much lower risk of liver failure; one in 50,000 experience liver damage from valproate.

Autism In Pregnancy

Pregnant women who suffer from epilepsy should avoid taking valproate as a treatment drug. In a study published in JAMA, researchers found that valproate is linked to a higher risk of autism in pregnancy. Consumption of the drug is not advised for pregnant women because it can lead to malformations, especially neurodevelopmental disorders. "There must be a continuous effort to include this information along with all the other risks in discussions with women of childbearing age who are candidates for valproate," Jakob Christensen, Ph.D., lead author of the study, said to Medscape Medical News. The development of autism in children has been proven to begin as early as when they are in the womb; therefore, women of child-bearing age or who are pregnant should avoid the use of valproate to reduce the risk of neurodevelopmental conditions in their newborns.

Read more: Epilepsy And Autism May Be Linked, Researchers Say

For more information on valproate's side effects during pregnancy, visit Emaxhealth.com.