Background: To ascertain the impact of postpartum onset (PPO) on the subsequent time course of mood disorders. Methods: This retrospective study compared per year rates of excited (manic or mixed) and depressive episodes between fifty-five women with bipolar (N = 22) or major depressive (N = 33) disorders with first episode occurring postpartum (within four weeks after childbirth according to DSM-IV definition) and 218 non-postpartum onset (NPPO) controls. Such patients had a traceable illness course consisting of one or more episodes alternating with complete symptom remission and no additional diagnoses of axis I disorders, mental retardation or brain organic diseases. A number of variables reported to influence the course of mood disorders were controlled for as possible confounding factors Results: Bipolar women with postpartum onset disorder had fewer excited episodes (p = 0.005) and fewer episodes of both polarities (p = 0.005) compared to non-postpartum onset subjects. No differences emerged in the rates of depressive episodes. All patients who met criteria for rapid cycling bipolar disorder (7 out of 123) were in the NPPO group. Among major depressives, PPO patients experienced fewer episodes (p = 0.016). With respect to clinical and treatment features, PPO-MDD subjects had less personality disorder comorbidity (p = 0.023) and were less likely to be on maintenance treatment compared to NPPO comparison subjects (p = 0.002) Conclusion: Such preliminary findings suggest that PPO mood disorders may be characterized by a less recurrent time course. Future research in this field should elucidate the role of comorbid personality disorders and treatment. Moreover it should clarify whether PPO disorders are also associated with a more positive outcome in terms of social functioning and quality of life.
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