Sunday, May 23, 2010

What is peripartum cardiomyopathy?

A 26 year old woman is 38 weeks pregnant with her first child. Things have been going well so far but over the last week she has gained 20 lbs. Her legs are so swollen she can't put her shoes on. She is so short of breath when she walks that she can't walk across her house anymore when last week she could walk around the house. She's so tired she can't stay awake and she has started waking up in the middle of the night because she can't breathe.

A 23 year old woman has given birth to twins 4 days ago. She had a normal delivery and has been adjusting to being a mother of twins. This morning she woke up and her legs were more swollen than when she was pregnant. She feels dizzy and her heart is beating really fast.

What's going on here?

These women both have peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM). PPCM is a type of heart failure that is an acute, usually severe onset in someone with no previous history of heart failure. It usually occurs in the last 4 weeks of pregnancy or can happen up to 5 months postpartum. It is often misdiagnosed and can be deadly. The good news is that with treatment, most women recover and can lead normal lives.

There is a site called A mother's heart which is a support site for women with PPCM. There is a wonderful description of the disease there.

If you or someone you know has been affected by PPCM, I encourage you to check out this site. There is a PPCM researcher named James Fett MD who answers questions and keeps people up to date with the latest research.

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