Postpartum Cardiomyopathy: A Rare but Serious Risk

Postpartum (or peripartum) cardiomyopathy is a form of heart failure (weakening of the heart muscle) that strikes women at the end of pregnancy or shortly after delivery.

Experts aren’t sure what causes this condition. Past studies have linked it to hormones, genetics, or problems with the immune system. Women who become pregnant after 30, who are African American, who are pregnant with twins, or who have a history of pregnancy problems (such as preeclampsia) are at greater risk for developing it.

“When all of your symptoms are medically explainable, but you know in your gut something is still not right, work with your doctor and be persistent. My babies have a mommy because I listened to my body!” – Andrea Cardwell, Main Line Health peripartum cardiomyopathy survivor

Symptoms of postpartum cardiomyopathy can appear gradually or suddenly and can range from mild to severe. The can be mistaken for other conditions or normal changes during pregnancy, so it’s important to know what they are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Problems breathing when sleeping or laying down
  • Swelling of the feet
  • Cough
  • Chest pain

Certain medicines can ease symptoms. In severe cases, a woman may need a device that keeps her heart beating or even a heart transplant.

Postpartum cardiomyopathy can cause major problems—timely diagnosis and treatment are key. Listen to your body and if something doesn’t seem right, speak up.