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Peripartum Cardiomyopathy

Condition Basics

What is peripartum cardiomyopathy?

Peripartum cardiomyopathy is a condition that some people get during pregnancy or soon after childbirth. The heart muscle stretches more than normal and becomes weak. It may cause problems, such as heart failure. This means your heart can't pump the blood your body needs. It can be long-term and sometimes causes death.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include shortness of breath and swelling in the legs. You may also feel very tired and feel faint or dizzy. Other symptoms include chest pain, a rapid heart rate, a cough, and trouble breathing when you lie down.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and your past health. They may ask about your family history. You will have a physical exam. You will also have tests, such as an echocardiogram (echo) and an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). You may have a chest X-ray and an ultrasound of your heart.

How is peripartum cardiomyopathy treated?

Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and helping your heart work better. Treatment may include taking medicines. You and your doctor will work together to find a treatment plan that works best for you.

What increases your risk?

Your risk is higher if you:

  • Have high blood pressure or preeclampsia.
  • Had high blood pressure or preeclampsia during a past pregnancy.
  • Are pregnant with twins or more.
  • Are age 30 or older.
  • Smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs.
  • Are very overweight.
  • Had cardiomyopathy in a past pregnancy or have a family history of it.
  • Take or have taken medicines to treat preterm labour.

Pregnancy-related heart problems are more common and more likely to cause death in people who are of African or Indigenous descent. There is no simple reason why. Less access to good health care and differences in how patients are listened to and treated are part of it. Other health, economic, and social issues, including racism, also increase the risk for these groups. If you're a member of one of these groups, share your concerns with your doctor or midwife and talk about what you both can do to avoid problems.

How can you reduce your risk for problems?

You may not be able to prevent cardiomyopathy during your pregnancy. But you can take steps to lower your chances of having problems from this heart condition.

  • Watch for symptoms of cardiomyopathy late in your pregnancy.

    If you have swelling in your legs, feel very tired, have trouble breathing, or have other symptoms, tell your doctor or midwife right away.

  • Share your health history with your doctor or midwife.

    Tell your doctor or midwife if you have heart disease or a family history of it. Also tell them if you have high blood pressure. And tell your doctor or midwife if you had high blood pressure or preeclampsia during a past pregnancy.

  • Trust yourself, and be direct.

    You are the expert on your body. If something doesn't feel right, get help. If you don't feel like you're being heard, say so. You can say, "I know that pregnancy has risks. I want to be sure I'm getting good care." You could also ask a friend or family member to help you talk to your doctor or midwife. For some people, seeing a different doctor or midwife may be an option.

  • Try to be active most days.

    Talk to your doctor or midwife before you start an exercise program.

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods.

    These include vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and whole grains. Also eat foods low in sodium.

  • Stay at a healthy weight for you.

    Talk to your doctor or midwife about how much weight you should gain during pregnancy.

  • Avoid smoking or using tobacco.

    If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor or midwife.

  • Avoid using alcohol or illegal drugs, such as cocaine.

    If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drug use, talk to your doctor or midwife.

  • Take your medicines as prescribed.

    Let your doctor or midwife know if you are having problems with medicines.

  • Be sure to go to all doctor or midwife appointments.

    When you are pregnant and during the months after delivery, regular checkups help the doctor or midwife find and treat problems early.


Current as of: January 10, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board:
Kara L. Cadwallader MD - Family Medicine
Rebecca Sue Uranga MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Femi Olatunbosun MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology

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