Morphological and Functional Adaptation of the Maternal Heart During Pregnancy

OBJECTIVES: Pregnancy provides a unique model to study the adaptation of the heart in a physiological situation of transient load changes. The aim of this study was to assess the performance of the left ventricle (LV) in normal, uncomplicated pregnancies while considering the actual LV load and shape.

METHODS: Serial echocardiographic examinations were performed in 51 women in each pregnancy trimester and 3 to 6 months after delivery. Data from 10 nulliparous, age-matched women were used as the control. Conventional parameters of LV function (ejection fraction) as well as myocardial deformation (strain) were interpreted, taking into consideration maternal hemodynamics and LV shape.

RESULTS: Cardiac output increased during pregnancy because of a higher stroke volume in early pregnancy and a late increase in heart rate, whereas total vascular resistance decreased. Progressive development of eccentric hypertrophy was observed, which subsequently recovered postpartum. Sphericity index decreased from the first to the third trimester (1.92±0.17 versus 1.71±0.17) and returned postpartum to values comparable to the control. Although higher LV stroke work was noted toward the third trimester (5.9±1.1 versus 5.3±1.0 Newton meter, P<0.001), ejection fraction showed no significant changes. LV strain decreased significantly in late pregnancy (−19.5±2% to −17.6±1.6%, P<0.001) and returned to baseline values after delivery (−19.5±2%).

CONCLUSIONS: Pregnancy is a physiological process associated with increased cardiac performance and progressive LV remodeling. These changes are not directly reflected by parameters traditionally considered to describe systolic function, such as ejection fraction and longitudinal deformation. While ejection fraction was insensitive to the functional changes, the transient decrease in longitudinal deformation becomes only plausible when considering the changes in LV geometry. 

PMID: 22455877

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One Comment

  1. Interesting paper that demonstrated progressive eccentric LVH in pregnant patients followed serially by echo.

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