The US has already approved the first pill for postpartum depression, designed specifically for its treatment. This Friday, the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the green light to the use of the drug zuranolone to treat this condition, which affects one in seven postpartum women, and more generally to treat severe depression.
The drug, which will be sold under the name Zurzuvae, is taken at a daily dose of fifty milligrams for two weeks, as recommended by the FDA. Clinical trials show that the pills begin to work quickly, and symptom relief can begin as early as three days after starting treatment.
“Postpartum depression is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. In it, women suffer from sadness, guilt, feeling worthless. In severe cases, they may have thoughts of harming themselves or their child,” said Tiffany Farcione, director of the Psychiatric Division of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Access to oral medication can be a beneficial option for many of these women who are dealing with extreme and sometimes life-threatening feelings.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, postpartum depression can last for months or even years if left untreated. It is estimated that about 400,000 babies are born in the United States each year to mothers who develop this condition, which can lead to suicidal thoughts. Those that come from one’s own hand make up 20% of deaths that occur after childbirth.
So far, treatment for this mental illness has included psychological therapy and the use of antidepressants, but there was no pill for postpartum depression. Also, unlike a new drug, traditional antidepressants can take time to work.
The first specific drug to treat this condition, brexanolone (sold under the brand name Zulresso), was approved in 2019, but its use has not been widely adopted: it is used by drip for 60 hours in a medical center and causes certain side effects, such as headache pain, dizziness, drowsiness and even sudden loss of consciousness.
Both brexanolone and suranolone are versions of a substance produced by the human body, a steroid related to the hormone progesterone. Levels of this substance can rise during pregnancy and drop sharply after childbirth, which can trigger depression. Taking these drugs can restore steroid levels and alleviate the disease.
According to the agency, consumption of this medication may cause side effects such as dizziness, diarrhea, fatigue, or a urinary tract infection. Its ingestion can cause harm to the fetus, so women taking the drug are advised to use effective methods of contraception within a week after the end of treatment. The FDA also recommends that those on the pill wait 12 hours before driving or operating heavy machinery.
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