Fast-Acting Postpartum Depression Drug is Effective

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July 28, 2023 – The FDA is considering approving a postpartum depression medication that can start working rapidly -- in as little as three days. Promising results for the drug, zuranolone, were published Wednesday in The Journal of American Psychiatry.

Approximately 17% of women are affected by postpartum depression (PPD) during pregnancy or after birth, study authors noted. The condition often results in reduced breastfeeding, poor maternal-infant bonding, and hindering behavioral, emotional and brain development of the baby. Severe PPD can lead to suicide of the mom, which accounts for 20% of all postpartum deaths, they wrote.

The study included 196 people who had given birth in the past year, and were between the ages of 18 and 45 years old. Participants had major depression that began in the third trimester of pregnancy or during the first four weeks of the postpartum period. Among participants, 22% were Black and 38% were Hispanic.

Of those who took zuranolone, 57% had significantly improved depression symptoms after taking the drug for 14 days, and 27% were in remission at the conclusion of the 14-day treatment. The average time it took for symptoms to significantly decline was nine days. Most people who saw improvements had them continue for the entire 45-day follow-up period. The most common side effects were drowsiness, dizziness, and sleepiness.

Currently, PPD treatment includes taking antidepressants, which can take up to 12 weeks to work. 

Researchers noted that the limitations of the study were that it only included women with severe PPD, and that women with a history of bipolar or psychotic disorders were excluded. Women in the study were not allowed to breastfeed, so the effect of zuranolone on lactation is unknown, they wrote.

February news release from drugmaker Biogen indicated the FDA may decide whether to approve the medicine by Aug. 5.