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Congestive Heart Failure A Rare, Baffling Condition For Some Women

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Most mother-to-be are more concerned about the health of their newborn baby than what happens to them. That is why some pregnant women are shocked when they are diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition.

Late in pregnancy, or just after delivery, otherwise healthy women can develop congestive heart failure. It is a diagnosis doctors call baffling and no one sees coming.

Denise Van Rooij beams as she talks about her daughter, Zoe.

When Zoe was 3 days old, Van Rooij started feeling sick. She thought is was just part of being a new mother.

"Just a washed-out, tired feeling. I didn't have any energy," she said. "I had no suspicion that anything else could be wrong."

Then, Van Rooij was unable to breathe. She was diagnosed with

peripartum cardiomyopathy

, a form of heart failure that affects women during pregnancy. She ended up in the intensive-care unit.

Peripartum cardiomyopathy is rare, occurring in about one out of every 3,000 births. Still, Raleigh Cardiologist Dr. Charles Mangano said it is some of the toughest news he has to break.

"The timing is really bad," he said. "You can imagine it's one of the happiest moments of their lives, then to be told you have congestive heart failure."

With proper medication and treatment though, 50 percent of women recover within six months.

"The other 50 percent are in trouble. The mortality in that group may be as high as 50 percent or more," Mangano said.

Fortunately, Van Rooij's heart and her life are returning to normal -- or as normal as can be with a 6-month-old. Her doctors think she will have no problem keeping up with Zoe.

"She's going to give me challenge, but they feel like I'm going to be able to do it," Van Rooij said.

Symptoms of peripartum cardiomyopathy include significant shortness of breath, fatigue and swelling in the ankles.

Women most at risk includeAfrican Americans, those over 30 and those having twins or triplets. Smoking and being overweight also increase the risk.


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