North Texas

Rare Heart Condition Affects Pregnant Women

A rare heart condition is affecting pregnant and new mothers.

Brianna Harris, 23, delivered a healthy baby girl in late 2016 with no complications in pregnancy or delivery.

Then, on Dec. 26, she went to the emergency department with severe shortness of breath.

"I just had a baby and it was just very scary," Harris said.

She was diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy, a rare type of heart failure that occurs during pregnancy or immediately after.

"My lungs was covered in fluid. My heart was covered in fluids, and it was just a bunch of fluid, and they had to act quickly to clear it," she said.

The condition weakens the heart muscle and causes the heart to become enlarged.

The enlarged heart can't pump blood properly to the rest of the body.

"We actually don't know why this happens," said Dr. Michael Rothkopf, cardiologist at Baylor Scott & White, who says it can happen anytime between a woman's last month of pregnancy to six months postpartum.

"Towards end of pregnancy, it's not uncommon to be swollen and out of breath. If it's out of the ordinary and it persists after pregnancy is over, then you should be suspicious that something else is going on," Rothkopf said.

People who are African-American may have a higher risk of developing the condition.

A few years ago, Harris lost an older sister to peripartum cardiomyopathy. In some cases, medications work and the enlarged heart returns to normal size.

In other cases, a heart transplant might become necessary.

Harris is now attending cardiac rehab three days a week and seeing physicians at the congestive heart failure clinic.

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