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Mar 10, 2015

Cardiomyopathy Increases Heart Risks in Pregnant Women

Women who develop diseases of the heart muscle during pregnancy have the greatest risk of complications.

Cardiomyopathy occurs when abnormal heart muscle develops, making it harder for the heart to pump enough blood to the rest of the body, increasing risk for heart failure and other serious complications. For pregnant women, cardiomyopathy is especially dangerous, as pregnancy puts added stress on the heart and body, further increasing likelihood of complications.

One difficulty in studying risk factors and outcomes associated with this condition is that cardiomyopathy affects as few as 1 in 4,000 births. Fortunately, information collected through a national database called the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Projects National Inpatient Sample has helped shed light on cardiomyopathy in pregnant women. Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Heart Failure, a recent study analyzed the medical records of 2,078 U.S. women with cardiomyopathy who gave birth between 2006 and 2010. The goal of the study was to determine how often serious complications occur in pregnant women with cardiomyopathy and what factors, if any, are associated with poorer outcomes.

Overall, researchers found that serious complications such as heart attack, heart failure, abnormal heart rhythm or death occurred in 40% of pregnant women with cardiomyopathy compared to just 1% of pregnant women without existing heart conditions. Among women with cardiomyopathy, those who developed this condition during pregnancy had significantly higher risk of complications than those who were born with it. Heart failure was the most common complication associated with cardiomyopathy, occurring in one-third of pregnant women with this condition. Investigators also found that valvular heart disease and seizures during pregnancy (called eclampsia) were associated with drastically higher risk of serious complications.

Based on their findings, researchers conclude that serious complications are relatively common in pregnant women with cardiomyopathy, affecting roughly 4 in 10 of these women. As such, it’s critical for women with cardiomyopathy to receive counseling before or during pregnancy so they understand the risks associated with the condition. Counseling is especially important for women developing cardiomyopathy during pregnancy, since they are at greatest risk for complications.

Since heart failure is the most common complication associated with cardiomyopathy, authors also believe that taking steps to reduce risk for this condition and improve outcomes is a key goal. With future research, experts hope to better understand risk factors associated with cardiomyopathy to improve outcomes.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is cardiomyopathy?
  • Cardiomyopathy refers to diseases of the heart muscle, which cause the heart to become weaker and can lead to serious complications such as heart failure, abnormal heart rhythm or heart valve problems. Cardiomyopathy can vary in severity, as some patients can have no symptoms while others have debilitating symptoms that require immediate treatment. However, cardiomyopathy often worsens over time, weakening the heart and making it difficult for the heart to pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
  • How is cardiomyopathy treated?
  • Treatment depends on which major type of cardiomyopathy a patient has. However, goals of treatment are usually to minimize symptoms, reduce risk of complications and prevent the condition from worsening. Treatment options may include medication, surgery, and/or medical devices.


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