Bipolar disorder in women: reproductive events and treatment considerations


Marlene P. Freeman, Women's Mental Health Program, Department of Psychiatry, University of Arizona College of Medicine, 1501 N. Campbell Avenue, 7th Floor, ML 245002, Tucson, AZ 85724-5002, USA.


Objective:  Bipolar disorders are prevalent in women. Women with bipolar disorder often present with different clinical features than men. Reproductive events and hormonal treatments may impact the course of bipolar disorder. Our main objectives are to i) assess the impact of reproductive events on the course of the disorder, and ii) to discuss the relationships between reproductive events and psychiatric treatments.

Method:  A literature search was conducted of MEDLINE journals from 1965 to present. Manual literature searches were also conducted. We review the presentation, clinical course, and treatment considerations of bipolar disorder in women, with emphasis on treatment considerations in the context of reproductive events. Treatment-related issues such as teratogenicity, breastfeeding, polycystic ovarian syndrome, weight gain and obesity, and medication interactions with oral contraceptives are reviewed.

Results:  Women with bipolar disorder may be more vulnerable to mood episodes in the context of reproductive events, particularly postpartum. In women of reproductive age, mood stabilizers must be selected with teratogenic risks in mind, with the highest reported risks in pregnancy with valproate, and the greatest concern during breastfeeding with lithium use. In the areas of the perimenopause and polycycstic ovarian syndrome, more data are needed to advise treatment decisions.

Conclusion:  We urgently need further study in these areas to deliver care that is appropriate to women with bipolar disorder.