The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted approval for the medication Zuranolone to treat postpartum depression, making it the first FDA-approved oral pill for this specific condition in the United States. Postpartum depression is a serious mental illness that can affect about 1 in 7 new mothers after childbirth.
The FDA’s announcement on Friday revealed that the treatment, marketed under the brand name Zurzuvae, is to be taken as a once-daily pill over a 14-day period.
Dr. Tiffany R. Farchione, director of the Division of Psychiatry in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, highlighted the significance of the approval. Postpartum depression can lead to feelings of sadness, guilt, worthlessness, and, in severe cases, thoughts of self-harm or harm to the child. It can also disrupt the maternal-infant bond, affecting the child’s physical and emotional development.
While Zuranolone is deemed safe when used in moderation, the FDA has added a boxed warning to the drug’s labeling due to its potential impact on a person’s ability to drive and perform other hazardous activities. Patients may have difficulty assessing their level of impairment, and to minimize the risk of harm, the FDA recommends avoiding driving or operating heavy machinery for at least 12 hours after taking the drug.
The medication’s most common side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, diarrhea, fatigue, common cold symptoms, and urinary tract infections. Additionally, the use of the drug may lead to suicidal thoughts and behavior, as well as fetal harm. Therefore, women taking zuranolone should use effective contraception during treatment and for one week after completion.
Postpartum depression is often underdiagnosed and undertreated, and it can persist for months or years without proper treatment. The approval of zuranolone marks a significant advancement in postpartum depression treatment. Previously, Zulresso, administered as an IV drip, was the first FDA-approved drug for postpartum depression. In contrast, zuranolone offers the convenience of an oral pill taken at home.
Zuranolone, along with Zulresso, targets allopregnanolone, a naturally occurring substance in the body, and helps alleviate symptoms associated with postpartum depression. The rapid-acting antidepressant properties of these drugs offer a new and valuable treatment option for women experiencing postpartum depression. While the FDA approval is a milestone in maternal mental health, some experts caution against overprescribing the medication, particularly for those with mild to moderate depression. Psychotherapy and other interventions should be considered as initial treatment options for such cases.
The approval of zuranolone offers hope for women suffering from postpartum depression, and further studies will help assess its long-term impact, including among breastfeeding mothers, and interactions between patients and their children. Women experiencing postpartum depression or any related symptoms are encouraged to seek support and help promptly to prevent the condition from worsening.