Sodium valproate

Commonly called valproate. Sounds like 'val-PRO-ate'

Easy-to-read medicine information about sodium valproate – what it is, how to take sodium valproate safely and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Belongs to a group of medicines known as anti-epileptic medicines (to prevent seizures)
  • Epilim®

What is valproate?

Valproate has many uses: treating epilepsy by preventing seizures, controlling some mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and preventing migraine headaches. Valproate works by blocking certain kinds of nerve activity. In New Zealand, valproate is available as:

  • Epilim liquid 200 mg in 5 mL
  • Epilim 100 mg tablets (white tablets)
  • Epilim EC 200 mg or 500 mg tablets (lilac tablets). 


  • The dose of valproate will be different for different people.
  • Your doctor will start you on a low dose and increase your dose slowly over a few weeks.
  • It is usually taken 2 or 3 times a day.
  • Always take your valproate exactly as your doctor has told you. The pharmacy label on your medicine will tell you how much to take, how often to take it and any special instructions.

How to take valproate

  • Valproate is best taken with food.
  • Take your doses at the same times each day, to help you to remember to take it.
  • Valproate is available as a liquid or as tablets.  
Formulation How to take it

Epilim liquid

Epilim tablets

(white tablets)

  • You can swallow these tablets with a glass of water, juice or milk, or you can crush them to make it easier to swallow.
  • Crush the tablets and mix with a small amount of soft food such as yoghurt or a small drink. Swallow the food or drink straight away. 

Epilim EC tablets

(lilac tablets)

  • These are called enteric-coated (EC) tablets and are designed to prevent the medicine from upsetting the stomach.
  • Do not crush or chew them, as this will destroy the coating and be more likely to cause side effects.
  • Take these tablets with a glass of water, juice or milk.
  • If you forget to take your dose, take it as soon as you remember that day. But, if it is nearly time for your next dose, just take the next dose at the right time. Do not take double the dose.
  • Keep taking sodium valproate regularly every day (see tips to help you remember to take your medicines regularly). It may take a few weeks before you experience the full benefits of sodium valproate. Do not stop taking sodium valproate suddenly as this can cause problems; speak to your doctor or nurse before stopping.

Precautions – before starting valproate

Sex and pregnancy

If you are a sexually active female and are taking valproate, you should use 2 effective means of contraception (such as an IUD and condoms) to avoid unplanned pregnancy. When you are taking valproate it is extremely important to plan a pregnancy. You need to see your doctor 6 to 12 months before you would like to become pregnant so that you can reduce any risks to your baby. 

  • All antiepileptic medicines in pregnancy have the potential to harm an unborn child but the risks are higher with some medicines, including sodium valproate, especially early in your pregnancy and at higher doses. If you have epilepsy, having seizures while you are pregnant can also harm your unborn child so it is important to keep taking an anti-epileptic medication.
  • You and your doctor will agree on a plan about how to manage your medicines and your dose. 
  • If you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant, keep taking your medicine at the right dose, and contact your doctor, tell them you think you are pregnant and get an urgent appointment to see them.

Read more about the benefits and risks of taking medicines for epilepsy, mood or pain.

Possible side effects

Like all medicines, valproate can cause side effects; often side effects improve with time as your body gets used to the new medicine.

Side effects What should I do?
  • Feeling sleepy, drowsy or tired
  • Feeling dizzy, or faint
  • This is common when starting sodium valproate.
  • Be careful when driving or using tools until you know how this medicine affects you.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol.
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome.
  • Weight gain
  • Hair loss
  • Changes in menstruation (periods)
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome.
  • Changes in mood, personality or behaviour
  • Tell your doctor.
  • Shaky hands or unsteady on your feet
  • Tell your doctor as your dose may need to be adjusted.
  • Feeling sick (nausea)
  • Stomach upset
  • Try taking sodium valproate with food
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome - you may need to change to the EC tablet.
  • Easy bruising, feeling tired, looking pale, getting sick often
  • Tell to your doctor as you may need a blood test.
  • Signs of an allergic reactions such as skin rash, itches, hives, swelling of the face, lips and mouth, problems breathing 
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 0800 611 116
  • Signs of problems with your liver such as severe tummy pain, yellowing of the eyes and skin, dark urine.
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 0800 611 116


Valproate interacts with some other medications and herbal supplements, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting sodium valproate or before starting any new medicines. Do not take indigestion medication (antacids) within 2 hours of taking sodium valproate.

Learn more

Epilim Medsafe Consumer Information Sheet
For adults: sodium valproate New Zealand Formulary Patient Information
For children: sodium valproate New Zealand Formulary for Children
For women: Are you taking medicines for epilepsy, mood or pain? ACC, New Zealand


  1. sodium valproate New Zealand Formulary Patient Information
  2. sodium valproate New Zealand Formulary for Children
  3. Prescribing issues associated with anticonvulsant medications for epilepsy BPAC, 2009
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist, NZ. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 14 Dec 2017