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Safety of valproic acid in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a population-based study


Purpose — Valproic acid is an anticonvulsant that also inhibits histone deacetylase (HDAC), a property that could worsen pulmonary function in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The clinical significance of this property is unknown. The researchers therefore compared the risk of COPD exacerbation in older patients with COPD commencing treatment with either valproic acid or phenytoin, an anticonvulsant that does not affect HDAC.

Methods — The researchers conducted a population-based retrospective cohort study of Ontario residents with COPD aged 66 years or older who started treatment with valproic acid or phenytoin between 1 April 1993 and 30 November 2012. The primary outcome was a hospital admission or emergency department visit for a COPD exacerbation within 240 days of drug initiation. A secondary outcome examined initiation of oral corticosteroids in the outpatient setting.

Results — During the study period, the researchers identified 4,596 COPD patients who commenced valproic acid and 8478 who commenced phenytoin. Following multivariable adjustment, valproic acid did not increase the risk of the primary outcome (adjusted hazard ratio 1.00, 95% confidence interval 0.79 to 1.26). Although valproic acid was associated with a lower risk of initiating oral corticosteroids in the first thirty days following commencement of anticonvulsant therapy (adjusted hazard ratio 0.32; 95% confidence interval 0.21 to 0.49), no difference was observed during subsequent follow-up.

Conclusion — Among older patients with COPD, treatment with valproic acid does not increase the risk of adverse pulmonary outcomes relative to phenytoin. These findings suggest that valproate-induced HDAC inhibition is of little clinical relevance in this context.



Antoniou T, Yao Z, Camacho X, Mamdani MM, Juurlink DN, Gomes T. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2015; 24(3):256-61. Epub 2015 Feb 5.