A new study from Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University is calling for more targeted, prospective research in to the effects of bipolar disorder during pregnancy.

Bipolar disorder, which is more common among women, is characterized by depression, hypomania, or mania. Episodes of the disorder are usually concentrated during the peak of the reproductive years.

Bipolar disorder can increase the risk for psychiatric hospitalization, infanticide, and even lead to suicide. However, during pregnancy, the impact of the disorder is unclear.

Dr. Verinder Sharma, and colleagues set out to clearly define what they already know about bipolar disorder during pregnancy, and what they should examine next.

According to the researchers, pregnancy may have a positive effect on bipolar disorder. They found that during pregnancy, bipolar II disorder was either uncommon or in remission. In addition, they discovered that women had fewer and shorter episodes during pregnancy if they had already been diagnosed with the disorder. Furthermore, expectant mothers were less likely to have any other mood disorder than non-pregnant women.

However, the team highlights that the effect of mood stabilizer medications has complicated much of the current data. Often bipolar disorder is misdiagnosed as depression, and antidepressants are prescribed. However, antidepressants are known to worsen bipolar symptoms. In addition, many expectant mothers taking mood stabilizer stop in order to avoid potential adverse effects on their unborn babies. According to the researchers, this break seems to trigger bipolar episodes.

As a result researchers have had a difficult time separating the effect of the medications from the impact of the disorder. Therefore, Dr. Sharma is calling for new studies that specifically address the natural course of bipolar disorder.

Dr. Sharma explained:

“There is no period in a woman’s life when the risk of relapse of bipolar disorder is as high as in the postpartum period. This is a sharp contrast to pregnancy, when women may experience an improvement in their symptoms. If we fail to understand the effect of pregnancy on bipolar disorder, we will fail to understand bipolar disorder.”

Written by Grace Rattue