- Postpartum depression is the most common medical complication that occurs after giving birth, affecting over 13% of new female parents.
- But there may soon be a new medication designed to treat this condition.
- The drug, called Zuranolone, is currently being reviewed by the FDA.
There may soon be a pill specifically designed to treat postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is the most common medical complication that occurs after giving birth, affecting over 13% of new female parents.
There are treatments for the condition, but no single pill that can quickly target the symptoms.
Now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering an application by Biogen and Sage Therapeutics to review an anti-depressant targeting postpartum depression.
What is the medication?
The pill, called Zuranolone, works by regulating neurotransmitters in the brain that help manage stress and anxiety.
Zuranolone is currently being reviewed by the FDA, which will make a decision regarding the approval of the drug by August 5, 2023.
Maternal health physicians are excited about the prospect of an oral medication for postpartum depression that works fast.
“I think this could be life-changing for many women. I feel this pill could really help a lot of mothers struggling with depression and anxiety to feel better quickly and be able to better care for themselves and their children,” Dr. Jill Purdie, a board-certified OB/GYN and medical director at Pediatrix Medical Group, told Healthline.
How would the medication work?
While there are multiple factors that contribute to postpartum depression, it’s known that pregnancy and childbirth disrupt functioning of a neurotransmitter called perinatal γ-aminobutyric acid, or GABA.
GABA produces a calming effect. It helps relieve anxiety, stress, and feelings of fear.
“When the level of GABA is too low, it may result in clinical symptoms of anxiety and depression,” says Purdie.
Pregnant people experience other significant chemical changes in their brain and body, too. For example, levels of allopregnanolone, a neurosteroid that helps regulate emotions, increase during pregnancy and plummet after childbirth.
Brexanolone injections, the first and only drug approved for postpartum depression, target GABA receptors and have been shown to alleviate depressive symptoms in women with postpartum depression.
Like the Braxanolone injections, Zuranolone was designed to increase GABA levels to improve mood, says Purdie.
Clinical trials have found that the pill significantly reduced feelings of depression in women with postpartum depression.
“In the trials, patients had significant reduction in anxiety and depressive symptoms as well as improved day-to-day function,” Purdie said.
The medication also works fast according to a 2021 study funded by the pharmaceutical comapny. After patients took the medication for two weeks and some of them reported improvements within a few days.
There were no reports of withdrawal or worsening depression after discontinuing the medication were reported in the clinical trial.
Even though patients only take the drug for two weeks, the vast majority of people remain in remission, according to the clinical trial.
How postpartum depression can impact quality of life
Left untreated, postpartum depression can impair functioning and take a massive toll on people’s quality of life.
Many women who develop the condition experience mood swings, anxiety, breastfeeding problems, relationship issues, substance misuse, and persistent depression.
According to Sarah McBane, PharmD, a health sciences clinical professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, postpartum depression can be challenging to accurately diagnose and many women experience difficulty accessing care and coping with the stigma of negative feelings during what is traditionally viewed as a happy time.
Postpartum depression is currently treated with counseling and medications, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs and brexanolone injection, which was approved by the FDA on 2019.
Brexanolone injection, which given by a continuous intravenous (IV) infusion over 60 hours and is only available at specific treatment centers in the US, is the only medication specifically approved to treat postpartum depression, said McBane.
While normal anti-depressants can help with postpartum depression, they have not been studied, specifically, for postpartum depression.
SSRIs also take around a month to take effect.
That’s a “long time to wait, especially for a new mom struggling with their new role along with symptoms of postpartum depression,” McBane said.
Zuranolone offers a new option to improve depressive symptoms, she said.
“A drug that would improve symptoms faster would be very helpful in this unique situation,” Purdie said.
The bottom line
The FDA is currently evaluating a new oral medication specifically designed to treat postpartum depression. The drug would be the first of its kind — a fast, effective treatment to help alleviate postpartum depression within a matter of days.
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