How is PPD Diagnosed?
Postpartum depression presents different signs and symptoms that may change throughout the course of the disorder. Because the symptoms of are numerous and broad, it can be difficult at first to achieve a diagnosis.
There is no single diagnostic tool or test that physicians use to reach a postpartum depression diagnosis or a diagnosis of any other type of postpartum mood disorder.
Instead, doctors will diagnose a mother with PPD by:
- Assessing the patient’s signs and symptoms
- Interviewing their patient
- Performing initial psychological screenings
- Testing for other medical conditions or physical ailments
In addition to the diagnostic process used by the family doctor, women can seek the support of a mental health professional who can conduct a psychological assessment and reach a diagnosis.
Recording Signs and Symptoms
The first critical step in reaching a postpartum depression diagnosis is taking note of the initial signs and symptoms. Recording and documenting details about symptom types and how they are progressing will help diagnose and treat the condition.
Pay close attention to emotional, mental, physical and behavioral symptoms. Record dates so you know when the symptoms first started. Keep journal to note these symptoms and any other characteristics, such as shifts in sleeping and eating patterns.
Once the initial signs and symptoms of postpartum depression appear, contact a physician as soon as possible. The doctor will inquire about the different signs and symptoms, so your documentation will be helpful here.
Doctors will look at past medical history, such as a history of mental illness, depression or anxiety. They will also likely look into family medical history, including a history of mental illness within the family.
Finally, the doctor will ask about other medical conditions that may cause symptoms of depression, anxiety and fatigue. These common PPD symptoms may actually be a result of another mental condition.
Testing for Other Medical Conditions
Because the symptoms of postpartum depression are so broad, doctors will want to ensure that symptoms like depression, irritability, anxiety and fatigue are not the result of a thyroid dysfunction.
After childbirth, many women develop an underactive thyroid condition called postpartum thyroiditis. This condition causes similar symptoms to postpartum depression and include anxiety, fatigue, irritability and inability to concentrate.
Doctors may perform a blood test to determine if a thyroid condition is the underlying cause of the postpartum depression symptoms. Doctors may also look for other medical conditions such as a vitamin deficiency, malnutrition or other ailments that can cause depression, anxiety and fatigue.
Once the doctors have ruled out other medical conditions, they are able to move toward reaching a postpartum depression diagnosis.
Psychological Screening Test or Questionnaire
After ruling out other medical conditions that cause depression-like symptoms, doctors may perform psychological screening tests or questionnaires to assess the extent of the PPD symptoms.
These questionnaires assess the recent symptoms and behaviors to ensure there is a correlation between the symptoms and childbirth.
If the questionnaire or screening test results are congruent with the known signs and symptoms of postpartum depression, a doctor may reach a diagnosis at this stage. Once a diagnosis is reached, a treatment plan will be implemented. Treatment usually includes a combination of medication and mental therapy.
There is not one ideal screening tool used for postpartum depression. However, questionnaires specific to PPD symptoms are available online for patients and for doctors to use in screening their own patients.
Many doctors and patients choose to work in conjunction with a mental health care professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist to further conclude a diagnosis and pursue treatment options.
If a patient’s symptoms align with the known symptoms of postpartum depression, a mental health professional can use another diagnostic tool. This tool is the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association.
The DSM-5 is a mental health disorder classification and diagnostic tool. It helps provide an official postpartum depression psychiatric diagnosis because it allows the patient to more fully understand their condition.
A postpartum depression diagnosis reached using the DSM-5 also helps families. With this diagnosis, insurance providers will reimburse families for their medical expenses.
Diagnosing the Type of Postpartum Depression
It is important for physicians and mental health professionals to distinguish between the different types of postpartum depression to reach an accurate diagnosis. Because each type of postpartum depression presents its own unique set of risk factors, signs and symptoms, the progression and treatment can also be very different.
This further proves why it is important to record and monitor specific symptoms so doctors can make an appropriate diagnosis. Doctors will also want to look at the extent of postpartum mood disorder symptoms. This helps them distinguish more severe symptoms from the milder symptoms found in postpartum blues (“baby blues”).
Working with both a physician and mental health professional can be a healthy way to reach a postpartum depression diagnosis. In turn, mothers can receive the best possible treatment.