Peripartum Cardiomyopathy

Peripartum cardiomyopathy is a rare but potentially serious heart condition that affects women during the late stages of pregnancy or in the months immediately following childbirth. It is characterized by a sudden weakening of the heart muscle, which can trigger symptoms of heart failure. Some women recover fully, while others require long-term treatment.

Because peripartum cardiomyopathy can have significant consequences for the health of both the mother and her baby, it is vital to seek specialized medical attention right away. Tampa General Hospital’s Heart and Vascular Institute features a Women’s Heart Program as well as a Cardio-Obstetrics Program. Our cardiac specialists are experts in identifying, preventing and treating heart conditions that solely or disproportionately affect females, including peripartum cardiomyopathy and Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

What Causes Peripartum Cardiomyopathy?

The precise causes of peripartum cardiomyopathy are not well understood. Experts believe the condition likely results from a complex interplay of several factors, which may include:

  • Fluctuating levels of female hormones, such as prolactin
  • Inflammation in the heart muscle
  • An autoimmune disorder
  • A genetic predisposition
  • Inadequate intake of certain nutrients, such as selenium and coenzyme Q10
  • Cardiovascular stress associated with pregnancy and childbirth

Peripartum Cardiomyopathy Symptoms

Common signs of peripartum cardiomyopathy include:

  • Breathlessness
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet (edema)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest discomfort
  • Persistent coughing
  • Reduced urine output
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal fullness

Because some of these symptoms overlap with those of a normal pregnancy, it is important to discuss any unusual changes with a physician right away.

How Is Peripartum Cardiomyopathy Treated?

The goals of treating peripartum cardiomyopathy are to manage symptoms, improve heart function and prevent complications. Key aspects of treatment may include:

  • Lifestyle modifications – A physician may recommend dietary changes, sodium restriction and/or fluid management.
  • Monitoring – Most patients are monitored with repeated echocardiograms and other tests to track their heart function.
  • Supportive care – Because peripartum cardiomyopathy can be emotionally taxing, many patients benefit from support groups and relaxation techniques.
  • Medications – If necessary, a physician may prescribe a diuretic to reduce fluid buildup, an ACE inhibitor to improve heart function and/or a beta blocker to regulate the heart rate.
  • Mechanical circulatory support – A ventricular assist device (VAD) may be used to support the heart’s pumping function during recovery.
  • Heart transplantation – Rarely, if heart function does not improve with mechanical support, a heart transplant may be considered.

Benefit From World-Class Care at TGH

If peripartum cardiomyopathy is suspected, it is essential to work closely with a healthcare provider who is experienced in managing female-specific cardiovascular conditions. With an early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, many women experience improved heart function and lead healthy lives. With that said, long-term management and monitoring are sometimes necessary.

TGH is the only hospital in the Tampa Bay region to be included in the list of “100 hospitals and health systems with great heart programs” compiled by Becker’s Hospital Review in 2023, and we are proud to have established the first and only academic Women’s Heart Program in our area. If you would like to talk with a specialist on our team, contact us at (813) 844-3900 to schedule an appointment.