Dr. Lee S. Cohen, Director of the Ammon-Pinizzotto Center for Women’s Mental Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, recently shared his insights on the reproductive safety of medication for bipolar disorder with Ob.Gyn News on March 25th, 2021.
We have less information but have a growing body of evidence about atypical antipsychotics. Both data from administrative databases as well a growing literature from pregnancy registries, such as the National Pregnancy Registry for Atypical Antipsychotics, fail to show a signal for teratogenicity with respect to use of the medicines as a class, and also with specific reference to some of the most widely used atypical antipsychotics, particularly quetiapine and aripiprazole. Our comfort level, compared with a decade ago, with using the second-generation antipsychotics is much greater. That’s a good thing considering the extent to which patients presenting on a combination of, for example, lamotrigine and atypical antipsychotics.
Another mainstay of treatment for women with bipolar I disorder and prominent symptoms of mania is lithium carbonate. The data for efficacy of lithium carbonate used both acutely and for maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder has been unequivocal. Concerns about the teratogenicity of lithium go back to the 1970s and indicate a small increased absolute and relative risk for cardiovascular malformations. More recently, a meta-analysis of lithium exposure during pregnancy and the postpartum period supports this older data, which suggests this increased risk, and examines other outcomes concerning to women with bipolar disorder who use lithium, such as preterm labor, low birth weight, miscarriage, and other adverse neonatal outcomes.
In 2021, with the backdrop of the pandemic, what we actually see is that, for our pregnant and postpartum patients with bipolar disorder, the imperative to keep them well, keep them out of the hospital, and keep them safe has often required careful coadministration of drugs like lamotrigine, lithium, and atypical antipsychotics (and even benzodiazepines). Keeping this population well during the perinatal period is so critical. We were all trained to use the least number of medications when possible across psychiatric illnesses. But the years, data, and clinical experience have shown that polypharmacy may be required to sustain euthymia in many patients with bipolar disorder. The reflex historically has been to stop medications during pregnancy. We take pause, particularly during the pandemic, before reverting back to the practice of 25 years ago of abruptly stopping medicines such as lithium or atypical antipsychotics in patients with bipolar disorder because we know that the risk for relapse is very high following a shift from the regimen that got the patient well.
The COVID-19 pandemic in many respects has highlighted a need to clinically thread the needle with respect to developing a regimen that minimizes risk of reproductive safety concerns but maximizes the likelihood that we can sustain the emotional well-being of these women across pregnancy and into the postpartum period.
Dr. Cohen is the director of the Ammon-Pinizzotto Center for Women’s Mental Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, which provides information resources and conducts clinical care and research in reproductive mental health. He has been a consultant to manufacturers of psychiatric medications. Email Dr. Cohen at email@example.com.
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