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Aug 24, 2011

Peripartum Cardiomyopathy Explained

Learn about this uncommon condition triggered in women by pregnancy.

Peripartum cardiomyopathy is a relatively uncommon cardiovascular condition triggered in women by pregnancy. It is a recently discovered condition, first documented in 1937, that currently affects an estimated 1,350 women annually. Fortunately, a range of research studies conducted since its discovery have illuminated peripartum cardiomyopathy, helping to identify causes, treatments and prognoses for this condition.

Ongoing research has helped to define peripartum cardiomyopathy as the development of heart failure in patients during pregnancy and/or following delivery. Although it develops most often during the third trimester of pregnancy, it can begin to present in the second trimester.

Most patients with peripartum cardiomyopathy present the same symptoms as heart failure, such as shortness of breath, cough, chest pain and abdominal pain. However, these can sometimes be mistaken for normal signs and symptoms of pregnancy, which can delay diagnosis of the condition. But once symptoms are recognized, doctors can determine relatively easily whether a patient has peripartum cardiomyopathy with a physical examination and other tests such as electrocardiography or chest radiography (X-ray).

Studies show that age, race, medical history and pregnancy can contribute to increased risk. For example, peripartum cardiomyopathy is more often found in women older than 30, and is more prevalent among African-Americans. In fact, African-Americans may be up to 16 times more likely to develop this condition, while Hispanics are the least likely to develop it. Those with a history of high blood pressure or multiple pregnancies are at increased risk.

Peripartum cardiomyopathy can cause a variety of complications: heart failure, heart attack, arrhythmia, thromboembolism (blood clots) and death. However, doctors can help reduce risk for these complications and minimize symptoms with medications and diuretic agents. And many recover after giving birth, sometimes within 6 months. Additional research is needed to fully comprehend the causes, prevention and most effective treatments to help properly diagnose patients and improve outcomes.

Read this Article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are the signs of peripartum cardiomyopathy during pregnancy?

  • Although this condition is rare, it does occur in about 1 in 3,200 women. Those with peripartum cardiomyopathy will present similar symptoms as for heart failure, such as shortness of breath, chest pain and abdominal pain. Patients presenting these symptoms should talk with their doctor, as this condition can be easily diagnosed in patients.

  • What causes peripartum cardiomyopathy?

  • Although researchers are not yet sure of the exact causes of this condition, some propose that it may be due to hormonal abnormalities, malnutrition, inflammation or immune system responses during pregnancy.

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