Postpartum cardiomyopathy, also known as peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM), is defined as new onset of heart failure between the last month of pregnancy and 5 months post delivery with no determinable cause. First described in a case series in 1937. Postpartum cardiomyopathy is a rare cause of heart failure. Its incidence and prevalence are highly variable depending on the race and geographic regions. Its clinical outcome is also diverse from complete recovery to death. Postpartum cardiomyopathy is a diagnosis of exclusion.
The exact mechanism of disease is unknown; however, different hypotheses have been described regarding its etiology comprising viral myocarditis, nutritional deficiencies, autoimmunity, microchimerism, hemodynamic stresses, vascular dysfunction, hormonal insults, and underlying genetics.
The nationwide population-based study showed the incidence of 10.3 patients per 10,000 live births. The incidence increases with age with a maximum incidence of 40 to 54 years. This incidence is highest in African Americans and people living in the southern United States, but the incidence is lowest in Hispanics. The disease is more prevalent in Asia and Africa. One study showed that the incidence of heart failure due to pregnancy is higher among Nigerian women; affecting nearly 1 out of 100 live births. Data showed that every 1 in 837 to 1 in 1374 deliveries suffers from peripartum cardiomyopathy in south Asia., Due to the advent of new techniques for the diagnosis and more awareness regarding postpartum cardiomyopathy, its incidence has increased from 8.5 to 11.8 in the last few years.
There are approximately 11 hypotheses suggested as a possible causal factor for the development of heart failure.
The diagnosis is based on clinical presentation and echocardiographic findings. A biopsy is not needed for the diagnosis however when done in rare cases; it shows patchy fibrosis, myofiber hypertrophy, degeneration, and necrosis with inflammatory endomyocardial infiltrates. It also sometimes reveals viral genomes such as herpesvirus 6, parvovirus B19, and Epstein-Barr virus.
Most patients present soon after delivery especially in the first week postpartum. The symptoms are suggestive of heart failure, for example, orthopnea and paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea. These symptoms are usually attributed to normal pregnancy and that is why a diagnosis of postpartum cardiomyopathy can be easily missed. Physical examination findings include tachycardia, elevated jugular venous pressure, bilateral pulmonary crackles due to pulmonary edema, third heart sound (S3) and displaced apical pulse. Severe cases may present with acute respiratory failure or cardiogenic shock and a need for close monitoring in the intensive care unit.
Some of the most common risk factors for the development of postpartum cardiomyopathy are as follows:
ECG may show non-specific changes like sinus tachycardia, interventricular delay and sometimes, LBBB pattern.
Echocardiography suffices to differentiate it from other causes and usually shows left ventricle dilatation of variable degrees, left ventricle systolic dysfunction, right ventricular and bi-atrial enlargement, mitral and tricuspid regurgitation, and pulmonary hypertension.
Echocardiography criteria to diagnose PPCM includes ejection fraction less than 45%, end-diastolic diameter greater than 2.7 cm/m2 and/or M-mode fractional shortening less than 30%.
Cardiac MRI can also be used to diagnose when an accurate estimation of the ejection fraction (EF) is required.
Treatment is usually supportive and directed toward the management of the heart failure symptoms. Standard heart failure therapy is used to optimize the patient's volume status. Beta-blockers and ACEIs are the most commonly used drugs and have shown to lower the mortality. However, an ACEI is contraindicated in pregnant patients. Diuretics are often used to ease symptoms related to heart failure. Novel anti-heart failure medications, such as sacubitril/valsartan have been reported to improve heart failure symptoms in pregnancy-related cardiomyopathies.
Recent data suggest that an increase in oxidative stress during the peripartum period increases the formation of abnormal 16-kDa prolactin which induces toxic effects on cardiac myocyte. Bromocriptine, a dopamine receptor agonist with prolactin-blocking properties, decreases the effect of 16-kDa prolactin on cardiac myocyte and has been associated with better outcomes in small studies.
Cardiac resynchronization therapy has also shown to improve ejection fraction and outcomes when medical therapy alone is ineffective.
Long-term outcomes are variable. Fifty percent of the patients improve with standard medical treatment. However, 25% of patients develop chronic heart failure, and the remainder dies during the course of the disease. The patient should be advised against pregnancy if the EF remains low, as mortality is high in such scenarios. However, if pregnancy is desired, the patient should wait for at least 5 years after the ejection fraction has normalized.
Following complications have been associated with PPCM:
An interprofessional approach to peripartum cardiomyopathy is recommended.
Because of the high morbidity and mortality of peripartum cardiomyopathy, the prenatal nurse, obstetrician and nurse practitioner working in obstetrics must be fully aware of this disorder. Only through a prompt and appropriate referral to a cardiologist can the mortality be improved.
An interprofessional approach should be used to manage moderate-to-severe cases. The patient may require close monitoring in the ICU and repeat ultrasounds may be required to assess the viability of the fetus. All patients should be warned about the potential toxicity of the cardiac medications on the fetus.
Finally, the patient should be educated to avoid future pregnancies if ejection fraction fails to improve as it increases the mortality up to 50%. Despite optimal therapy, the condition still carries a mortality rate of more than 10% to 20%.
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