Cardiomyopathy is a rare type of heart disease usually associated with heart failure that can occur during or after pregnancy. The heart muscle is weakkened preventing the heart from working properly, and not being able to pump blood throughout the body. This happens in about 1 in 1,000 pregnancies. There is often no clear cause of peripartum cardiomyopathy though there are often additional risk factors associated with peripartum cardiomyopathy.
- high blood pressure
- personal history of heart disease including myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle)
- African American descent
- multiple pregnancies
- being over the age of 30
- premature delivery medications (NIH, 2012)
- rapid heartbeat or palpitations
- chest pain
- excessive fatigue
- tiredness during physical activity
- shortness of breath
- swelling of feet and ankles
- increased urination at night
- X-ray of the entire chest
- computed tomography (CT) scan for detailed pictures of the heart
- nuclear heart scan to show heart chambers
- sound waves to create moving pictures of the heart (echocardiogram)
The exact form of treatment your doctor recommends depends on the severity of your condition. Peripartum cardiomyopathy doesn’t have a cure, and the heart damage is irreversible. Women who develop this condition are hospitalized until symptoms are controlled. A heart transplant or use of a balloon heart pump are recommended in severe cases. For most women, however, treatment involves managing and reducing symptoms. Peripartum cardiomyopathy can affect your health for the rest of your life, even after successful treatment. Follow through with regular check-ups and take all medications as directed.
- blood clots, particularly in the lungs
- congestive heart failure
The outlook for this condition depends on the severity and time frame of your condition. Women who develop the condition during pregnancy have a better chance of their hearts returning to normal size after delivery. Survival rates are better in these cases. Other women don’t fare as well and get worse quickly. The National Institutes of Health estimate that 25 to 50 percent of women with this condition eventually die from it (NIH, 2012). The course of the disease varies. It can progress slowly in some women and rapidly in others. A heart transplant is the best way to preserve longevity.
Certain lifestyle habits can decrease your risk. This is especially important for first-time mothers. Focus on:
- regular exercise
- a low-fat diet
- avoiding cigarettes
- avoiding alcohol
Women who have been diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy are at risk for developing the condition with future pregnancies. In these cases, women may consider taking birth control to prevent pregnancy altogether.