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Heart Failure That Affects Only Women

When most think of heart failure, an image of a man over the age of 65 usually comes to mind.  Both can be wrong.  There’s a unique type of heart failure which affects only women under the age of 45 around the time of pregnancy or shortly after delivery.  It’s called peripartum cardiomyopathy.

It happened to Julie Dirks from Brentwood.  At 36, Julie had just given birth to her third son, Henry, when she started feeling fatigued and suffered from shortness of breath.  Her ankles were swollen and she was coughing incessantly.   With her husband out of town on business and her health not improving, Julie drove herself to the emergency department at Saint Thomas Midtown.  Doctors admitted her to the ICU immediately.  Julie was shocked to learn she was in heart failure.

Julie was diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy.  It’s an unusual type of heart failure that occurs during pregnancy or immediately after delivery. The condition weakens the heart muscle, therefore, the heart can’t pump blood properly.

Dr. Stacy Davis, a cardiologist at Saint Thomas Heart, part of Ascension, says it’s not unusual for women to have a baby, go home from the hospital, feel fine and then a few weeks later feel fatigued and short of breath.  Davis says many women shrug off the symptoms thinking they’re supposed to be tired.  After all, they’re taking care of a newborn, breastfeeding and possibly going back to work.  But, Davis says women need to be more aware of what’s happening to their bodies and if something is unusual, they need to see their primary care physician.

Watch the video to learn more about Julie’s story and peripartum cardiomyopathy.

To schedule an appointment with our Perinatal Cardiac Specialists, call: (615) 284-8636.

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One comment

  1. These symptoms can be more subtle than the obvious crushing chest pain often associated with heart attacks. Women may describe chest pain as pressure or a tightness. This may be because women tend to have blockages not only in their main arteries but also in the smaller arteries that supply blood to the heart a condition called small vessel heart disease or coronary microvascular disease.

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