US Approves First Drug to Treat Postpartum Depression Health & Wellness

The U.S. Drug Administration (FDA) is headquartered in Maryland.Andrew Kelly (Reuters)

The first drug specifically prescribed to treat postpartum depression has been approved in the United States. The country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday approved the use of the drug zuranolone to treat the condition, which affects one in seven women after giving birth, and, more broadly, to treat major depression.

The drug, which will be marketed under the name Zurzuvae, will be given at 50 mg daily for two weeks, as recommended by the FDA. Clinical trials have shown that the pill begins to work quickly, and relief of symptoms may begin to be detected within three days of starting treatment.

“Postpartum depression is a serious and potentially life-threatening disorder. In it, women suffer from sadness, guilt, and feelings of worthlessness. In severe cases, they may have thoughts of harming themselves or their baby,” FDA Drug Tiffany Farchione, director of psychiatry at the Center for Evaluation and Research, said. “Access to oral medications may be a beneficial option for many women who are dealing with extreme and sometimes life-threatening sensations.”

Left untreated, postpartum depression can linger for months or even years, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. An estimated 400,000 babies are born to mothers in the United States each year with the condition, which can lead to suicidal ideation. Self-inflicted deaths account for 20% of postpartum deaths.

So far, treatments for this mental illness include psychotherapy and the use of antidepressants, but there are no medications for postpartum depression. Also, unlike newer drugs, traditional antidepressants take a while to work.

The first specific drug to treat the disease, brexanolone (trade name Zulresso), was approved in 2019, but its use is not widespread: given by infusion in medical centers for more than 60 hours, it caused certain side effects, Examples include headaches, dizziness, drowsiness and even sudden loss of consciousness.

Both brexanolone and zuranolone are versions of a substance produced by the body, a type of steroid related to the hormone progesterone. Levels of this substance can rise during pregnancy and drop dramatically after delivery, triggering depression. Administration of these drugs restores steroid levels and alleviates the disease.

Taking the drug can cause side effects such as dizziness, diarrhea, fatigue or urinary tract infections, according to the agency. Ingesting it can cause fetal harm, so advise women using this drug to use effective birth control for a week after finishing treatment. The FDA also recommends that people taking the drug wait 12 hours before driving or operating heavy machinery.

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