Findings of a recent Spanish study suggest that postpartum mood episodes — the changing moods new mothers may encounter after they’ve given birth — have no influence on prognosis or the course of bipolar disorder in women.
Due to lack of previous study comparing the outcomes of female bipolar patients with and without a lifetime history of postpartum mood episodes (PMEs), Spanish researchers set out to conduct a prospective clinical study that would uncover any relationship between the two illnesses.
Led by Eduard Vieta of the University Clinic Hospital of Barcelona, the research team noted that “postpartum mood symptoms show well-defined clinical features and appear to be mainly influenced by genetic predisposition and family-related factors and not as much by psychosocial factors.”
Postpartum mood disorders are mental health illnesses that occur during the first year after giving birth. They can range from what’s commonly referred to as mild baby blues to the more severe forms of postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis.
As many as 80 percent of new mothers may experience baby blues, while postpartum depression affects 25 percent, and postpartum psychosis may be seen in one to two mothers out of every 1,000.
Researchers assessed data on 200 women diagnosed with bipolar disorder, identifying 43 who had a history of PMEs. Postpartum mood episodes, or PMEs, were defined as an occurrence of a mood episode within four weeks after giving birth.
The sample of women analyzed was drawn from enrollment in the Bipolar Disorders Program at the University Clinic Hospital of Barcelona for at least 10 years. Of those not identified with the disorder, 137 actually did not present with the diagnosis while the remaining 20 were eliminated due to disagreement between the two independent psychiatrists as to their history of mood episodes.
No significant differences were recorded between those presenting with a history of PMEs and those who did not when assessing such clinical features as rapid cycling, Axis I comorbidity and Axis II comorbidity.
Family history of mental illness and specifically, affective disorder, also proved an insignificant comparison, as percentages were similar between those with history and those without. Specifically, the percentage of bipolar patients with previous family history of affective disorder was 65.1 percent compared to 62.9 percent for those without the illness.
Both groups also presented with similar socio-economic factors and functionality.
Researchers did note one difference in that women with a history of PMEs suffered a longer duration of bipolar illness—20.16 year compared to 15.02 years.
The current study was limited by its lack of ability to take account other factors that can influence the outcome of a postpartum episode such as obstetric complications and social support before delivery. Similarly, dimensional and qualitative aspects of bipolar disorder were not included in the analysis.
Based on the findings, the team said that “the role of postpartum onset as a DSM course modifier should be reconsidered, as it seems to have no impact on prognosis or functioning.”
A serious mental illness, bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood changes running the gamut from mania to depression. Risky behaviors are associated with bipolar disorder, and it often causes damage to relationships and careers, and even suicidal tendencies if not treated.
It is estimated that 5.7 million adults live with this disorder in the U.S., affecting all genders and ethnic groups.
The study can be found in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
Source: Journal of Affective Disorders