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Agnus Castus Fruit Extract as a Treatment for Premenstrual Syndrome

During the period before menstruation, many women report experiencing psychological and physical symptoms collectively referred to as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The fruits, leaves and flowers of Vitex agnus castus (the Chaste Tree) have traditionally been used to relieve these symptoms. While the mode of action is not clear, the effects of the plant seem to mimic those of the corpus luteum, stimulating the production of lutenizing hormone, thereby increasing progesterone production. Schellenberg and colleagues recently studied the effects of agnus castus fruit in women with premenstrual syndrome.

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Depression and Preterm Labor

Although most people tend to think of pregnancy as a time of emotional well-being, depression is relatively common, affecting about 1 in 10 women. While there are obvious concerns related to the use of antidepressants during pregnancy and the effects of these medications on the developing fetus, less attention has focused on the impact of depression itself on the pregnancy. A recent study suggests that women with depression may be at greater risk for preterm labor.

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Venlafaxine for Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression (PPD) is relatively common, occurring in about 10 to 15% of women after delivery. Several reports have documented the efficacy of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) sertraline, fluoxetine, and fluvoxamine for the treatment of this disorder. In a recent report, Cohen and colleagues have demonstrated the efficacy of venlafaxine for the treatment of PPD.

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Lithium Discontinuation While Attempting to Conceive

For women with bipolar disorder who are planning a pregnancy, it is common practice to discontinue mood stabilizers prior to attempts to conceive, since the mood stabilizers most commonly used to treat bipolar disorder (lithium, valproic acid, and carbamazepine) all carry some risk of birth defect. The problem with this approach is that, after discontinuation of maintenance treatment, a woman is at very high risk for relapse. The longer it takes to get pregnant and the longer she remains off medication, the greater is her risk for having recurrent illness.

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Breastfeeding and Antidepressants

When discussing the use of antidepressant medications by breastfeeding women, It is somewhat misleading to say that certain medications are “safer” than others. All medications taken by the mother are secreted into the breast milk. The amount of drug to which the infant is exposed depends on many factors, including the medication dosage, as well as the infant’s age and feeding schedule. To date, we have not found that certain medications are found at lower levels in the breast milk and may therefore pose less of a risk to the nursing infant. Nor have we found that any antidepressant medication has been associated with serious adverse events in the baby.

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Alternative Treatments for PMS

During the two weeks prior to the onset of a menstrual period, many women experience physical symptoms, such as bloating, breast tenderness, headache, and muscle aches. A small proportion of women also note a change in their mood and complain of irritability, mood swings, depressed mood, or feeling tense. If these symptoms interfere with a woman’s ability to function, she may have premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

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Bipolar Disorder and Pregnancy

Unfortunately the mood stabilizers most commonly used to treat bipolar disorder (including lithium and valproic acid) can increase the risk of certain types of birth defects or congenital malformations in children exposed to these medications during the first trimester of pregnancy. For this reason, many women with bipolar disorder choose to discontinue maintenance treatment during pregnancy. However, we have observed very high rates of illness during pregnancy among these women who discontinue treatment; over half of the women relapse, most frequently during the first trimester.

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Preventing Depression During Pregnancy

Women who take antidepressants for their depression must make a difficult decision when they plan to become pregnant. Should they continue their medication during pregnancy? Or should they stop? Although there is information to support the reproductive safety of at least some antidepressants, most women, understandably concerned about exposing their babies to medication, choose to discontinue their antidepressant during pregnancy.

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