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What Is Postpartum Cardiomyopathy?

What Is Postpartum Cardiomyopathy?

Women can experience many bodily changes during pregnancy. One such change is postpartum cardiomyopathy, a.k.a. peripartum cardiomyopathy. This is a kind of heart failure that can affect a mother during the tail end of pregnancy or shortly after childbirth. Fortunately, doctors have way to deal with the disease. In this article, we discuss how to prevent and treat postpartum cardiomyopathy.

What is Postpartum Cardiomyopathy?

Postpartum cardiomyopathy or peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM) is heart failure that occurs during the last 30 days of pregnancy or up to five months after the birth of the child.

The condition is similar to dilated cardiomyopathy. If a patient has PPCM, her heart chambers enlarge. As a result, heart muscles stretch and become thinner and weaker. However, they may have left ventricular systolic dysfunction, which leaves the heart functioning at less than 45% (as opposed to the typical 50% to 70%). Doctors often use this diagnosis when there is no other possible reason for or cause for heart failure.

As the heart muscles become weakens, the heart is less likely to work correctly. It pumps out less blood, which then decreases overall blood flow in the body.

Symptoms of Postpartum Cardiomyopathy

With less blood, the heart is unable to provide adequate oxygen to the different organs of the body such as the lungs and liver. As a result, people with postpartum cardiomyopathy typically show symptoms such as loss of breath, fatigue, and a cough.

Unfortunately, the symptoms of PPCM can be similar to those of other illnesses and conditions. This is why regular checkups with your doctor before and after childbirth are important.

These are the symptoms of Postpartum Cardiomyopathy that you should watch out for:

The AMA has also provided a system that classifies how severe the condition is. According to this system, Class I refers to the disease when it’s present but shows no symptoms, while Class II has mild symptoms that may occur during strenuous activity. Meanwhile, Class III refers to the disease when symptoms show up in moments of minimal exertion and Class IV occurs when symptoms present themselves even during moments of rest.

Causes of PPCM

Experts are still unsure of the causes of PPCM, as it can happen even to women without a history of heart diseases. However, it is important to emphasize that not all pregnant women will develop PPCM.

Some experts hypothesize that the condition stems from an increase in pressure on the heart due to pregnancy. They also believe that genetic factors can cause it. This means that women with families that have a history of cardiomyopathy have more chances of experiencing it.

Other risk factors include obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), being over 30 years of age, pregnancy with multiple fetuses, a history of preeclampsia and/or eclampsia, maternal cocaine use, and other lifestyle factors that may damage heart health.

Women who also have other heart conditions, such as a viral infection of the heart, coronary artery disease, or cases of PPCM in past pregnancies, are more at risk of developing postpartum cardiomyopathy.

How To Treat PPCM

The primary focus of PPCM treatment is to prevent fluid from accumulating in the lungs, thus helping heal the heart as soon as possible. Many can recover with the help of medications prescribed by the experts, including beta blockers, diuretics, or ACE inhibitors.

Besides rest, physicians typically recommend a diet low in salt, as well as certain restrictions in fluid intake (depending on the patient).

In severe cases, mechanical support or transplant surgery may be necessary.

How to Prevent Cardiomyopathy: 4 Ways To Start a Heart-Healthy Life

How to Prevent the Recurrence PPCM

Fortunately, postpartum cardiomyopathy is preventable. Here are some things expecting mothers can do to maintain or improve their heart health:

Maintain a healthy weight before, during, and after your pregnancy. While it is normal to gain extra weight when you’re expecting, you can maintain a healthy weight with exercise and a proper diet. This is essential because excess weight places additional pressure on the heart.

Keep an eye on your pulse. The average pulse rate per minute is between 60 to 100. If your pulse rate is outside this range, consult your doctor.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Avoid tobacco and alcohol while pregnant. It is also important to manage your stress efficiently, as stress can negatively affect your heart.

Key Takeaway

Postpartum cardiomyopathy is a heart condition that can appear in women who are in the final stages of pregnancy or who have just given birth. It occurs when the heart muscles weaken or function at a much lower rate than normal. While not a very common condition, its recurrence can be prevented with some heart-healthy lifestyle changes and regular checkups with a doctor.

Learn more about Cardiomyopathy here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Peripartum Cardiomyopathy (PPCM) https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cardiomyopathy/what-is-cardiomyopathy-in-adults/peripartum-cardiomyopathy-ppcm Accessed January 25, 2021

Peripartum cardiomyopathy https://www.cardiomyopathy.org/peripartum-cardiomyopathy/intro Accessed January 25, 2021

John Hopkins Peripartum Cardiomyopathy https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/peripartum-cardiomyopathy Accessed January 25, 2021

Prevention https://herheart.org/heart-conditions/prevention/ Accessed January 25, 2021

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Written by Kip Soliva Updated Jan 25
Medically reviewed by Mia Dacumos, M.D.