When model and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen gave birth to her daughter with her husband John Legend, she couldn’t figure out why she was so deeply unhappy. “Getting out of bed to get to set on time was painful,” she wrote. “My lower back throbbed; my shoulders—even my wrists—hurt. I didn’t have an appetite. I would go two days without a bite of food, and you know how big of a deal food is for me. One thing that really got me was just how short I was with people.”
After months of this, Teigen was finally diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety. One out of every seven mothers will experience postpartum depression (PPD), a condition that can dramatically affect the mother’s ability to care for herself and her new baby. This mood disorder can even be life threatening when severe. Now, for the first time, there is an FDA approved drug, Zulresso, that treats women experiencing PPD. And it works quickly, showing effects within just 48 hours. While the drug is still currently expensive and thus will have limited reach, we wanted a professional opinion to better understand how useful this drug may be.
We spoke with Dr. Caleb Whitenack, who works in Carolina Partners’ Durham office. He is a leading specialist in women’s mood disorders.
“Zulresso is a fascinating drug and treatment option for Postpartum depression (PPD) and Postpartum psychosis (PPP). The severity and risk level that PPD and PPP can reach is quite frightening. I have personally witnessed the amazing results of this medication. I was on the treatment team of one of the very first research patients to receive this medication. The response in this case was breathtaking. She had a dramatic reduction of symptoms within hours of starting the infusion. Hopefully the cost and coverage with insurance is such that it is available to those patients that really need it. The UNC Hospital system is likely to be the first available treatment center in the area and would be a good referral location for those patients that meet criteria to receive this medication.
The biggest impact we can make in regards to PPD and PPP is in prevention. It is very important to talk with all female patients about birth control status, family, and pregnancy planning. Talk about the risks of using medications during pregnancy verses the risks of not treating the mental illness. I am excited about the possibilities that this new medication opens up in regards to treatment of PPD and PPP.”
As Dr. Whitenack points out, while Zulresso is an exciting new medication on the market, prevention remains crucially important to help with postpartum mood disorders. One of the first steps to prevention is for women to know their individual risks, based on their and their family’s history of mental illness. Once potential risks are understood, expecting parents can work with the doctor, family, friends, and others to develop a plan. Pregnant women can also do preparatory work to understand the signs of PPD. Often postpartum depression, psychosis, or anxiety symptoms aren’t initially recognized by new parents, causing a delay in receiving much needed help and treatment.