Newly FDA-Approved Drug a Game Changer for Postpartum Depression

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Postpartum depression (PPD) can affect any mom and carries with it significant risks. In the past, there have not been many options for effectively treating PPD, but a new medication called zuranolone (brand name Zurzuvae), recently approved by the FDA specifically for postpartum depression, promises to be a game changer. Although the drug is not yet available at the time of this writing, it is expected to be available before the end of 2023.

What is postpartum depression (PPD)?

According to local psychiatrist Dr. Agha Shahid, about 15% of moms will have postpartum depression; the number may even be as high as 20%. Postpartum depression (PPD) is like major depression in that symptoms can include sleep disturbances, loss of energy, changes in appetite, feelings of desperation or despondency and a general inability to function.

The main difference between major depression and PPD is the pregnancy involved. With PPD, the patient may not be able to take care of their new baby, affecting their ability to bond with the baby as well as potentially affecting the baby’s health. With both PPD and major depression, the most serious concern is suicide.

Postpartum depression can affect any mom. According to Shahid, there are always risk factors, such as genetics or having poor social support, but it is important to recognize that any mom can be affected. 

What makes zuranolone unique

What makes zuranolone unique is how rapidly it works; patients will begin feeling better within two or three days. Another benefit, according to Shahid, is that it is a short-term treatment; the patient will only be on the medication for fourteen days. In contrast, other antidepressants may take a couple of weeks before they even start working; meanwhile, the patient is suffering. 

The only other drug currently approved specifically for postpartum depression is brexanolone (Zulresso), which is given intravenously and costs around $35,000. Thus, a concern with zuranolone will be pricing and how insurance companies will cover it. Shahid stated that cost will be very important, as he believes the medication should be available to every mom who is suffering from postpartum depression and that no mom should have to suffer. 

Given the benefits of zuranolone, future studies may expand its use, but for now, it is only approved for postpartum depression.

Correct diagnosis, early diagnosis, early treatment

Shahid stated that the key is “early diagnosis, early treatment.” He emphasized, though, that it is not just an early diagnosis that is important but a correct one. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce or eliminate the patient’s suffering quickly. Without quick and effective treatment, there are a number of residual negative effects, including the mom’s relationship with the baby, as well as social functions of the family as a whole. The most concerning risk with postpartum depression is suicide.

“Nobody needs to suffer postpartum depression and get to the point where they become suicidal,” Shahid said

He added that when the diagnosis is correct, zuranolone would be appropriate for any mom who is suffering.

Shahid stressed that postpartum depression is not a weakness. It is his hope that this new medication will not only help moms, but will also help in eliminating any stigma attached to postpartum depression.