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Positive Treatment Effect of Estradiol in Postpartum Psychosis: A Pilot Study

J Clin Psychiatry 2000;61(3):166-169

Background: Postpartum illnesses withpsychiatric symptoms and serious adverse sequelae are highly prevalent during the childbearing years. Despite multiple medical contacts, these illnesses often remain unidentified and untreated. To study the association between estradiol and puerperal psychosis, we measured serum concentration of estradioland performed an open-label trial of physiologic 17beta-estradiol in women with this disorder.

Method: Ten women with ICD-10 psychosis with postpartum onset consecutively recruited from a psychiatric duty unit were studied. Serum estradiol concentration was measured at baseline and weekly during sublingual 17beta-estradiol treatment for 6 weeks. The treatment effect was evaluated by a clinician-rated psychiatric symptom scale (the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale [BPRS]).

Results: The baseline serum estradiol levels (mean = 49.5 pmol/L; range, 13-90 pmol/L) were even lower than the threshold value of gonadal failure, and the patients exhibited high scores on the psychiatric symptom scale (mean BPRS total score = 78.3; range, 65-87). During the first week of 17beta-estradiol treatment, psychiatric symptoms diminished significantly (BPRS score decreased to a mean of 18.8, p < .001). Until the end of the second week of treatment, serum estradiol concentrations rose to near the values normally foundduring the follicular phase, and the patients became almost free of psychiatric symptoms.

Conclusion: The reversal of psychiatric symptoms in all patients by treating documented estradioldeficiency suggests that estradiol plays a role in the pathophysiology and may have a role in the treatment of this condition. There was a rebound of psychotic symptoms in the 1 patient who discontinued estradiol treatment. Given the small number of patients, this area deserves further study.