Peripartum Cardiomyopathy: What Is It?
During pregnancy, there is a rare heart failure type that can occur called peripartum cardiomyopathy. This can also happen just after delivering the baby. The heart muscles become weaker and the heart enlarges, meaning that it cannot pump enough blood around the body.
Cardiovascular Research Foundation reports that one in 3,000-4,000 women are affected with this condition every year. Usually, the diagnoses happens in the last month or within the first five months after having the baby.
There are some pre-pregnancy factors that can increase the chance of having thisheart condition. It is important to seek medical attention quickly to prevent the condition causing other complications.
Risk Factors and Causes
50% more blood is pumped around the body during pregnancy to make sure that the nutrients and oxygen are passed to the baby. There is currently no specific cause that brings on peripartum cardiomyopathy but doctors believe that the extra blood is part of the risk. The extra blood is linked to extra stress for the heart.
There are other risk factors according to the National Institutes of Health, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease in the medical history, including inflammation of the muscles in the heart (myocarditis)
- Multiple pregnancies
- Over 30 years old
- African American descent
- Medications for a premature delivery
Symptoms of Peripartum Cardiomyopathy
The symptoms of this heart conditions are very similar to other heart failure symptoms. These include:
- Chest pain
- Excessive fatigue
- Palpitations or rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Swollen ankles and feet
- Tiredness when doing physical acitivity
- Nighttime urination increased
Diagnosing the Heart Condition
Your doctor will perform a physical exam after checking your symptoms. A stethoscope will be used on your chest so your doctor can check if there are any crackling noises within the lungs or any abnormal sounds in your heart. Your blood pressure will also be taken. Patients find that their blood pressure is lower than it normally is or will suddenly drop after standing.
Image testing will be completed on your heart to measure it and check the blood flow. These can also check to make sure there is no damage to your lungs. Some of the tests are:
- Chest x-ray
- CT scan of the heart
- Echocardiogram to get a moving picture of your heart
- Nuclear heart scan to see all the chambers
Options for Treatment
The severity will determine the type of treatment recommended by your doctor. There is no cure for peripartum cardiomyopathy and the damage to the heart isn’t reversible. You will be in hospital until the symptoms are under control.
In severe cases, a balloon heart pump or heart transplant are recommended. However, for most women, reducing and managing the symptoms is usually enough.
There are some medications your doctor may choose to prescribe, including:
- Beta blockers to reduce your blood pressure and improve the flow of your blood through blocking the adrenaline hormone
- Diuretics to lower your blood pressure by removing all the excess salt and water from your system
- Digitalis to strengthen your heart so the circulation and pumping is improved
You may find that a low salt diet is recommended to help manage your blood pressure. You should avoid all tobacco and alcohol products as they can make your symptoms worse.
This is something that will affect you for the rest of your life, even when treatment is successful. It is important to use all medication recommended and attend checkups regularly with your doctor.
Complications of Peripartum Cardiomyopathy
Severe complications of this heart failure include:
- Congestive heart failure
- Blood clots, especially within the lungs
The Future for Patients with Peripartum Cardiomyopathy
Factors such as the time frame and severity will determine the future for patients. Those developing the condition during their pregnancy will find that the heart is more likely to return to its normal size after the delivery of the baby. In this case, the rate of survival is much higher.
When the symptoms are not taken care of, women suffer from it much more quickly. Around 25% to 50% of women die eventually, estimated by the National Institutes of Health. The disease’s cause varies and some women find that it develops more rapidly than others. The best option for longevity is to have a heart transplant.
Preventing Peripartum Cardiomyopathy
There are some lifestyle habits that can help to lower the risk of the disease. These are very important for first-time moms, including:
- Avoiding alcohol
- Avoiding cigarettes
- A healthy and low fat diet
- Exercise regularly
Those who developed this in earlier pregnancies are at risk of developing it with subsequent pregnancies. Some women are recommended to use birth control as a way to prevent future pregnancies completely.