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What is Postpartum Cardiomyopathy?

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  • Written By: Amanda Dean
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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Postpartum cardiomyopathy, or perinatal cardiomyopathy, is a form of dilated cardiomyopathy that occurs when the heart muscle weakens in the perinatal period. Cardiomyopathy causes abnormal heart rhythms and has the potential to cause heart failure. Estimates of the prevalence of this disorder vary from one case per 1,300 pregnancies to one case per 15,000 births. In some cases, the heart strengthens and returns to normal, but other women diagnosed with postpartum cardiomyopathy will be afflicted with cardiomyopathy indefinitely.

Postpartum cardiomyopathy is usually diagnosed late in the third trimester of pregnancy or within six months after giving birth. This weakening or enlarging of the heart results in abnormal heart rhythms and sometimes in cardiac arrest. This condition can also cause blood clots, which become dangerous or life threatening when they move into vital organs.

Some of the symptoms of this disorder, such as foot swelling, weight gain and fatigue, can be difficult to differentiate from typical bodily changes that occur during pregnancy. Other symptoms, such as dizziness, chest pain, heart palpitations and fainting around the time of giving birth, can be valuable clues that a woman is experiencing postpartum cardiomyopathy. Women who experience a rapid onset of symptoms should not hesitate to consult their obstetricians.

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This condition is relatively uncommon, but doctors and patients should be aware of several risk factors for postpartum cardiomyopathy. This disease can occur in women at any age, but it most commonly affects new and expectant mothers who are more than 30 years old. This disorder is experienced at higher frequencies among black women than those of any other race. Other risk factors for the disorder include obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol use, multiple past pregnancies and malnourishment.

The cause of this condition varies. Postpartum cardiomyopathy might be the result of a viral infection in the heart tissue or previously existing cardiac conditions. Diabetes, thyroid disease and infections are often found in women who have postpartum cardiomyopathy but have not been found to cause the condition.

Doctors typically treat the symptoms of the disorder and work to ensure the survival of mother and baby. Women might be prescribed diuretics, beta-blockers, nitrates or medications to strengthen the heart. Some medications typically used to treat heart conditions are avoided because they are contraindicated during pregnancy and nursing. In some cases, salts and liquids might be restricted in order to reduce fluid buildup.

Women who have postpartum cardiomyopathy should take extra care of their bodies during the perinatal period. Balanced nutrition and exercise are keys to returning the heart to its normal state. Smoking and drinking might worsen postpartum cardiomyopathy, and patients should refrain from these activities. Women who have been diagnosed with postpartum cardiomyopathy are at increased risk of redeveloping the condition in future pregnancies. A women whose heart does not return to normal soon after delivery might suffer heart failure in a future pregnancy.

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