How is PPD Diagnosed?
Postpartum depression presents several different sets of signs and symptoms that may change throughout the course of the disorder. Because the symptoms of postpartum depression are numerous and broad, it can be difficult at first to achieve a diagnosis.
In fact, 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 use a combination of assessing the patient’s signs and symptoms, interviewing their patient, performing initial psychological screenings and 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 be helpful in the future diagnosis and treatment of the condition.
Pay particularly close attention to emotional, mental, physical and behavioral symptoms and record dates to ensure that you know when symptoms first started. Keep a notebook or journal regarding these different types of symptoms as well as any other characteristics such as shifts in sleeping and eating patterns.
Once the initial signs and symptoms of postpartum depression exhibit themselves, it’s important to contact a physician as soon as possible. The doctor will inquire about the different signs and symptoms and so your documentation will be helpful here.
Additionally, doctors will look at past medical history such as any history of mental illness, depression or anxiety. Doctors 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 that may be easily confused with postpartum depression.
Testing for Other Medical Conditions
Because there are such broad symptoms of postpartum depression, doctors will want to ensure that symptoms like depression, irritability, anxiety and fatigue aren’t being caused by a thyroid dysfunction.
After childbirth, many women develop an underactive thyroid condition or a condition called postpartum thyroiditis. This condition causes similar symptoms to postpartum depression. These similar symptoms include anxiety, fatigue, irritability and inability to concentrate.
Doctors may likely perform a blood test to determine if a thyroid condition may be the underlying cause of these 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 towards reaching a postpartum depression diagnosis.
Psychological Screening Test or Questionnaire
By ruling out other medical conditions that may cause depression-like symptoms, doctors may then decide to perform psychological screening tests or questionnaires to assess the extent of the potential postpartum depression symptoms.
These questionnaires usually take into account specific symptoms and behaviors that have most recently occurred in order 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, then a doctor may reach a diagnosis at this stage. Subsequently, once a diagnosis is reached, a treatment plan will be implemented, which usually includes a combination of medication and mental therapy.
Presently there is no one ideal screening tool used for postpartum depression. However, questionnaires specific to postpartum depression symptoms are available online for patients to take 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.
Based on a patient’s symptoms aligning with the known symptoms of postpartum depression, a mental health professional can use another diagnostic tool. The diagnostic tool that mental health care professionals commonly use is 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. This is a helpful tool in providing an official postpartum depression psychiatric diagnosis because it helps the patient to more fully understand their condition.
A postpartum depression diagnosis reached using the DSM-5 also helps families be reimbursed for their medical expenses from their insurance provider.
Diagnosing the Type of Postpartum Depression
In some cases, it will be important for physicians and mental health professionals to distinguish between the different types of postpartum depression in order to reach an accurate diagnosis. Because each different type of postpartum depression presents its own unique set of risk factors and signs and symptoms, the treatment and progression can also be very different in each case.
This further proves why it’s important to record and monitor the specific symptoms so that doctors can make an appropriate diagnosis. Additionally, doctors will also want to look at the extent of postpartum mood disorder symptoms in order to distinguish the particular symptoms from milder symptoms found in postpartum blues (baby blues).
Working with both a physician and a mental health professional can be a healthy and positive way to reach a postpartum depression diagnosis and subsequently receive the best possible treatment.