Black women at higher risk for pregnancy-related heart failure, prolonged recovery

A new study suggests that African-American women are more likely to suffer from Peripartum Cardiomyopathy and are more likely to worsen before getting better.

A doctor holds a stethoscope on a pregnant person's belly.

A doctor holds a stethoscope on a pregnant person's belly. (VadimGuzhva/Bigstock)

African-American women are more likely to experience a form of heart failure during pregnancy than any other ethnic group. Now, a new study suggests they tend to fare worse while recovering from heart failure, as well.

Peripartum cardiomyopathy is a form of heart failure that can happen toward the end of pregnancy, or in the months following delivery. It’s fairly rare, says Zolt Arany. He’s an associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and an author of the study.

But when it does happen, the condition can lead to different outcomes, some more severe than others.

“It’s a range,” says Arany. “Some women are OK with it, and some women, the heart is functioning so little that they can’t walk around. And they have to lie in bed all day until they get better.”

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And for other women, the condition can be deadly. “Their body never tolerates the insult of their heart not working, and they end up doing terribly; dying, or requiring a heart transplant,” said Arany.

By studying electronic health records from hospitals in Philadelphia, Arany and his team found that the African-American patients tended to fare worse.

“When they presented,” in a medical setting, he said, “they tended to be a little sicker. But most strikingly, they tended to fail to recover from their disease twice as often as Caucasian women.”

Failing to recover could mean needing to take medication to control heart failure for the rest of one’s life, or it could mean death, depending on the woman.

It’s unclear why these women had worse outcomes, but Arany says that’s what researchers are looking at now.

“One can envision that this is related to socioeconomic issues, to neighborhoods, to diet. But also one can envision that this is related to genetic underpinnings,” he said.

His team has an ongoing study focused on the genetics of the disease, using the same set of women.

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