Black women face double the risk of pregnancy-related heart failure

Peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM) strikes black women harder than other races, both in frequency and the ability to recover, according to a report published in JAMA Cardiology.

Researchers studied 220 women who were diagnosed with PPCM over a thirty-year period at the University of Pennsylvania Health System. PPCM is a potentially life-threatening form of heart failure that occurs in the last month of pregnancy or up to five months following delivery.

In the study, black women were diagnosed later post-partum, presented with lower left ventricular ejection (LVEF) and experienced lower recovery rates than non-African American women (57 percent versus 75.8 percent). When they did recover—defined by LVEF exceeding 50 percent—it took more than twice the time.

"While we know that African American women are at greater risk for PPMC, the disparity in disease diversity at presentation and the subsequent progression of the condition in this patient population was staggering,” lead author Olga Corazon Irizarry, MD, said in a press release.

The researchers said environmental and genetic factors could explain their results.

“Our study, while a retrospective one, opens the door for even more research on this subject, to find out why these women are more at risk,” said co-author Jennifer Lewey, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine and director of the Penn Women’s Cardiovascular Center.

“Is this risk increased due to genetics, socioeconomic status and access to care, or due to contributing medical problems such as hypertension? Our next step will be to answer these questions, and identify how we can proactively diagnose and potentially prevent such a dangerous diagnosis in this at-risk patient population.”