What are side effects of using anticonvulsants for bipolar?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

Anticonvulsants, like most medications carry a variety of side effects including gastrointestinal and liver problems. Other side effects include drowsiness and weight gain.

In general, they are well tolerated, and the side effects can be managed by adjusting the dose. For some people, the side effects subside after about six months. However, it is important to note some very serious side effects associated with anticonvulsant medications.

They are associated with an increase in the production of testosterone. This puts women under the age of 20 at an increased risk for polycystic ovary syndrome. In addition, anticonvulsant medications such as valproic acid (Depakote) and lamotrigine (Lamictal) come with an FDA warning about the increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior, and fetal abnormalities. If you are taking these drugs, you will be closely watched to make sure your testosterone levels (if you are a woman under 20), depression, mood, and behavior have not made a turn for the worse. It’s important to tell your doctor if you feel like you’re getting worse or have had suicidal thoughts, especially during the first several weeks of treatment, or if your dose is changed. That goes for other uncomfortable side effects, too.

Mark Moronell, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
The main side effects with anti-convulsants such as Depakote and Lamictal that are prescribed for bipolar disorder include sedation and gastrointestinal problems. These side effects usually resolve by adjusting the dose or after the first six months of taking the drugs. Sometimes weight gain is a bothersome side effect of taking anti-convulsants for bipolar disorder. There are liver and pancreatic problems that may occur when taking Depakote for bipolar disorder, but these side effects are rare. Depakote and Lamictal are both generally well-tolerated.   Most problems with these anti-convulsants for bipolar disorder can be managed by adjusting the dose.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.