Postpartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM), also known as peripartum cardiomyopathy, is a rare, life-threatening heart disease that develops between the final weeks of pregnancy and 6 months after delivery. The muscles of the heart weaken, which means that it’s harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. Approximately 1,000 to 1,300 women develop the condition in the U.S. each year. 80% will die of it.
It is suspected to be underdiagnosed, however, as many of the presenting symptoms are attributed to pneumonia or the effects of pregnancy or delivery.
Potential risk factors include:
However, 25-33% of all PPCM patients don’t have any obvious risk factors.
Early detection and treatment are very important for a full recovery. An echocardiogram (ECG) may help to diagnose cardiomyopathy, but a normal ECG does not exclude PPCM. Chest x-rays and other radiologic tests will show an enlarged heart. Referral to a tertiary hospital is mandatory. Heart transplant may be the only option for long-term survival.
There are several types of medications that may be prescribed to treat postpartum cardiomyopathy, including:
Some of these medications are not recommended for breastfeeding mothers, so talk to your doctor if you would like to explore options that are safer for breastfeeding. However, the health of the heart must be a priority.