New Drug Could Help Postpartum Depression—If You Can Afford It

Feelings of sadness are quite common for new mothers, just after giving birth, in a phenomenon known as postpartum depression. While some also report these feelings while still pregnant, the condition is categorized by overwhelming emotions of anxiety, sadness, panic, frustration, and hopelessness, typically after giving birth.  Fortunately, the common condition is only reported in as many as 20 percent of new mothers, but for those who suffer it, professional/clinical help is often necessary. 

Most women—particularly new mothers—are not prepared for the wide range of emotions that can accompany pregnancy and after the birth of the baby.  But a new medication might make this experience a little easier to handle. This week, the United States Food and Drug Administration has approved a new treatment from called Zulresso, from Sage Therapeutics, for the treatment of postpartum depression.  

Lead investigator Samantha Meltzer-Brody explains that this therapy is quite necessary to help the 400,000 women affected by postpartum depression, every year. “This drug is so important because current treatment can take weeks to months to work. And postpartum depression can be such a devastating disorder for the mother, her baby, and family, that there’s been a great need for treatments that work quickly.”  

The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Perinatal Psychiatry Program clinical director goes on to say, “This can treat women quickly and unlike any other way we’ve been able to do before.”

The active ingredient in this drug is called brezanolone. This is actually just a synthetic version of the natural steroid allopregnanolone.  Allopregnanolone interacts with a key neural receptor that helps the control GABA, a major inhibitory neurotransmitter.  Research shows that women have elevated allopregnanolone levels during pregnancy (in addition to progesterone, which breaks down into allopregnanolone).  After deliver, though, these levels drop dramatically—and suddenly—and, researchers speculate, this can destabilize neurochemistry and reduce GABA levels in the brain, which then contributes to postpartum depression.  

While clinical results are promising, the cost and time commitment associated with this drug may not be feasible for everyone. Studies indicate that the price of the drug may be too high for some patients and this is important because minority women and low-income women tend to have higher rates of postpartum depression. This means that those patients who might need it most are also the least likely to be able to afford it. 

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