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Keywords:

  • bipolar disorder;
  • menstrual cycle;
  • premenstrual dysphoric disorder;
  • premenstrual syndrome

Objectives

Several lines of research suggest that reproductive events may affect the course of bipolar disorder (BD) in some women. With respect to the menstrual cycle, the focus has been on dysphoric symptoms [e.g., premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)], and the exacerbation of depression, in the premenstrual phase. This article reviews the literature on the potential effects of the menstrual cycle on BD.

Methods

A systematic search for published case reports and research studies available through March, 2013 was conducted. Several combinations of search terms were entered into PubMed and PsycInfo.

Results

Overall, 25 case reports, ten retrospective studies, and 11 prospective studies were identified. The majority (64%) of case reports involved hypomanic or manic episodes in the premenstrual phase. Retrospective results suggest that 25–77% and 15–27% of women with BD meet the criteria for premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and PMDD, respectively. Menstrual cycle-related mood changes were reported by 64–68% of women with BD in retrospective studies, and were displayed by 44–65% of women in prospective studies.

Conclusions

Although research has focused on the premenstrual phase to the neglect of the periovulatory phase, it appears that a subgroup of women with BD, possibly those with hormonal sensitivity, experience menstrual cycle effects on depressive, hypomanic, and manic episodes. These phase-episode effects appear to be heterogeneous and may have implications for treatment. Whether they might best be described using course specifiers, similar to postpartum onset and rapid cycling, or as diagnostic entities, like PMDD, requires further study.