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doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000193
Clinical Corner: Invited Review

Mood disorders in midlife women: understanding the critical window and its clinical implications

Soares, Claudio N. MD, PhD, FRCPC, MBA(c)

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Objective: Menopausal transition and early postmenopausal years have been described as a “window of vulnerability” for the development of depressive symptoms or depression (new or recurrent) in some women. This article aims to review contributing factors to the emergence of menopause-related depression, some of the key challenges to its proper identification and management, and evidence on effective treatment strategies.

Methods: A body of evidence (animal data, epidemiologic studies, and clinical studies) was reviewed to disentangle some of the complex interactions between changes in sex hormones and reproductive function, physical health, and mood in midlife women. Special focus was given to the window of vulnerability framework.

Results: Despite evidence of a critical window for new onset of depression, a prior depressive episode (particularly if related to reproductive events) remains the strongest predictor of mood symptoms or depression during midlife years. Vasomotor symptoms, anxiety, and other health-related issues also modulate the risk for depression. Mechanistically, estrogen plays an important role in mood and cognitive regulation. Transdermal estradiol, as well as serotonergic and noradrenergic antidepressants, have shown efficacy in the management of depression in this population. Other evidence-based treatment options (hormonal, pharmacologic, and behavioral) are available to clinicians and health professionals.

Conclusions: A more comprehensive diagnostic approach should be used in symptomatic midlife women. Ultimately, researchers hope to develop preventive strategies and treatments that could be tailored to multiple symptom domains and improve overall functioning.

© 2014 by The North American Menopause Society.


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