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Cardiomyopathy in the Postpartum Period

written by: angiem1981 • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/29/2010

Are you at risk for postpartum cardiomyopathy? Although this condition is rare, the effects can be life threatening. Know your risk factors, signs and symptoms and the treatment options for this disorder.

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    What is Cardiomyopathy in Postpartum?

    Postpartum cardiomyopathy, also called peripartum cardiomyopathy or PPCM, is a rare but serious condition affecting the heart during the latter stages of pregnancy or within months following birth. It is considered peripartum if the onset is during the pregnancy and postpartum if the onset is within six months of giving birth. Cardiomyopathy is characterized by the thickening or hardening of the muscles of the heart, which can lead to severe complications such as heart failure and in some cases, even death. In the case of women who have just given birth or are pregnant, the onset of this condition is often very rapid and heart failure is common.

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    What Causes this Condition to Develop?

    Much research has been conducted in order to determine the cause of this condition. However, there are very little clues into the cause other than possible risk factors. These risk factors may include being of African American decent, as these women have a higher incidence of PPCM, for example. Other risks factors may include childbearing in the teen years and/or at an older age, smoking and being pregnant with multiples. In addition to this, researchers also believe that genetics, preeclampsia and high blood pressure also increases these risks. However, the same characteristics of PPCM remain steady for the majority of these cases, which in part adds to the difficulty in determining possible causes.

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    Typical Signs and Symptoms

    There are multiple symptoms of postpartum cardiomyopathy. These may include frequent urination, shortness of breath, general fatigue and malaise and edema (swelling) of the lower extremities. Signs and symptoms alone are not always useful for diagnosis though. This is because certain aspects of this heart problem can only be detected through the use of x-ray technologies and thorough physical exams. In some cases, the condition presents as other conditions such as pneumonia. Heart murmur, dark lung fields in the x-ray and abnormalities of the heart itself are quite common among patients suffering from cardiomyopathy during the postpartum period. It is important to remember that many of these symptoms can be overlooked and the indication of cardiomyopathy may not be indicated until the patient goes into heart failure.

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    Possible Treatment Options

    There may be multiple treatment options for women suffering cardiomyopathy in the postpartum period. In many instances, the treatment is the same for other patients with heart failure. This can include a combination of efforts, such as ACE inhibitors, diuretics and beta blockers. Treatment can also depend when the condition in caught, which usually isn’t until cardiac failure, is a problem. The earlier the condition is detected, the better the prognosis. Although many of these methods are effective in treating PPCM, severe complications and death may be accompanied by this disorder.

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    Bibliography

    Postpartum Cardiomyopathy. Pub Med Central. 31, October 2008. Viewed 27, October 2010. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2696941/

    What is Cardiomyopathy? Cleveland Clinic. 30, December 2008. Viewed 27, October 2010. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/Cardiomyopathy/hic_What_is_Cardiomyopathy.aspx