Valproic Acid

Valproic acid is a drug, which is mainly used to treat patients with fitting disorders, including epilepsy. Valproic acid can also be used to treat bipolar disorder and it may also be useful for patients who get migraines on a regular basis. It is important to monitor the levels of valproic acid in the blood very carefully; if levels are too high, this may cause negative side-effects, while low levels may affect the efficacy of the drug.

Why is the test used?

The test is used to measure the levels of valproic acid in the blood; this is done to check that the dosage of the drug is suitable. The test may also be repeated if the patient starts taking other forms of medication whilst taking valproic acid. The test may also be carried out if a patient is suffering from symptoms, including dizziness, changes in body weight, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, tremors, mood swings, hair loss, itching and unexplained bruising; in very rare cases, severe complications may occur, including pancreatitis or impaired liver function.

The test is usually ordered when a patient starts treatment; the test may be repeated to find a suitable dose. The test may also be ordered if the patient does not seem to be responding to treatment or the patient is suffering symptoms which may be associated with toxicity.

How is the test done?

The test is done by collecting and analysing a sample of blood from the patient’s arm; a needle is inserted into the vein and the blood is drawn out into a syringe. When the doctor or nurse has a sufficient sample, the blood will be bottled, labelled with the patient’s name and sent off to the laboratory for analysis. Usually the test is done before the next dose of the drug is due.

What do the test results mean?

The levels of valproic acid in the blood should be within the target therapeutic range; if levels are in this range, the drug should be effective without causing the patient to suffer any negative side-effects.

If levels of the drug are too low, this may mean that the dosage is not high enough and the patient may still be suffering from symptoms of the conditions they were originally prescribed the drug for, including mood swings and seizures.

If levels of the drug are too high, this may cause the patient to suffer symptoms related to toxicity; possible symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, weight gain or weight loss, unexplained bruising and tremors.

Specific Blood Tests

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