61. Case Report: Cardiac Arrest due to Peripartum Cardiomyopathy – Medical College of Wisconsin

CardioNerds (Amit Goyal & Daniel Ambinder) join Medical College of Wisconsin cardiology fellows (Katie Cohen, Div Mohananey, and Dave Lewandowski) for some cold brews by Lake Michigan in Cream City aka Milwaukee, WI! They discuss a case of a pregnant woman presenting cardiac arrest due to peripartum cardiomyopathy. Dr. Sarah Thordsen provides the E-CPR and program director, Dr. Nunzio Gaglianello, provides a message for applicants. Episode notes were developed by Johns Hopkins internal medicine resident, Eunice Dugan, with mentorship from University of Maryland cardiology fellow Karan Desai.  

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CardioNerds (Amit Goyal & Daniel Ambinder) join Medical College of Wisconsin cardiology fellows (Katie Cohen, Div Mohananey, and Dave Lewandowski) for some cold brews by Lake Michigan in Cream City aka Milwaukee, WI! They discuss a case of a pregnant woman presenting cardiac arrest due to peripartum cardiomyopathy. Dr. Sarah Thordsen provides the E-CPR and program director, Dr. Gaglianello Nunzio, provides a message for applicants. Episode notes were developed by Johns Hopkins internal medicine resident, Eunice Dugan, with mentorship from University of Maryland cardiology fellow Karan Desai.
Episode graphic by Dr. Carine Hamo

The CardioNerds Cardiology Case Reports series shines light on the hidden curriculum of medical storytelling. We learn together while discussing fascinating cases in this fun, engaging, and educational format. Each episode ends with an “Expert CardioNerd Perspectives & Review” (E-CPR) for a nuanced teaching from a content expert. We truly believe that hearing about a patient is the singular theme that unifies everyone at every level, from the student to the professor emeritus.

We are teaming up with the ACC FIT Section to use the #CNCR episodes to showcase CV education across the country in the era of virtual recruitment. As part of the recruitment series, each episode features fellows from a given program discussing and teaching about an interesting case as well as sharing what makes their hearts flutter about their fellowship training. The case discussion is followed by both an E-CPR segment and a message from the program director.

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Patient Summary

A G2P1 woman in her early 30s with a history palpitations presented after a witnessed out-of-hospital cardiac arrest while at work. She received 6 rounds of CPR and 2 shocks before ROSC was achieved. She was intubated and given fluids but continued to remain hypoxic and hypotensive. Exam demonstrated sinus tachycardia, no murmurs, gravid abdomen and cool extremities. Initial labs demonstrated leukocytosis to 14k, lactic acid at 4.3 mmol/L, troponin-I peak at 0.07 ng/dL and elevated NT-proBNP. CXR demonstrated bilateral effusions and pulmonary congestion, and post-arrest EKG showed a wide complex tachycardia, leading to suspicion of VT arrest. In sinus, there  were no ST segment elevations and TTE showed LVEF 10-20%, global hypokinesis and no valvular disease. Given the severity of her shock, she was placed on central VA-ECMO with Impella support as an LV vent. During ECMO cannulation, she underwent emergent cesarean section due to fetal distress. Coronary angiography showed non-obstructive coronaries, but with sluggish flow in the setting of her cardiogenic shock and possible coronary spasm in setting of multiple vasoactive medications. Endomyocardial biopsy was negative for giant cell myocarditis. Within 4-5 days, she was weaned off all vasoactive agents and ECMO was decannulated; repeat echocardiogram showed LV functional recovery. GDMT was slowly titrated and a subcutaneous ICD was eventually placed before discharge. She and her child have done well over the course of a year! 

Case Media

A: ECG: Initially in sustained wide complex irregular tachycardia
B: CXR: Extensive consolidative changes throughout the lungs

TTE: Parasternal Long Axis
TTE: Apical 4 Chamber

Episode Schematics & Teaching

The CardioNerds 5! – 5 major takeaways from the #CNCR case

1. What is the differential for cardiac arrest in pregnant patients? 

  • When thinking about a cardiac etiology of arrest, the differential should include pregnancy-induced hypertension, peripartum cardiomyopathy, myocardial infarction from acute coronary syndrome or spontaneous coronary artery dissection, pulmonary embolism, amniotic fluid embolism and aortic dissection. Non-cardiac etiologies include hemorrhagic shock, sepsis, stroke, trauma and anesthetic complications. In addition to these unique considerations, pregnant patients are also susceptible to the usual culprits! 
  • As noted in the 2015 AHA Scientific Statement, cardiac arrest in pregnancy is not common, occurring in 1:12,000 admissions for delivery. As of 2016, per the CDC the pregnancy-related mortality rate was ~17 deaths per every 100,000 live births. However, mortality data does not fully capture critical illness in pregnancy, and thus the AHA recommends considering maternal “near-miss” data.  
  • Knowledge gaps, provider unfamiliarity, and lack of medical ward or medical/cardiac ICU preparation for cardiac arrest in pregnancy may contribute to morbidity and mortality.  
  • Finally, as many of the early warnings signs of impending cardiac arrest may overlap with symptoms of pregnancy (e.g., progressive dyspnea), early interventions may be delayed. Thus, the AHA recommends using a validated obstetric early warning score to risk stratify ill pregnant patients.  

2. Remind us of some important physiologic changes in pregnancy that can affect cardiopulmonary resuscitation  

  • Hormonal and physiologic changes during pregnancy make pregnant patients more prone to hypoxia, hypotension, pulmonary edema, and difficult airway intubation. 
  • Systemic vascular resistance typically decreases due to the production of endogenous vasodilators, though there are important differences in patients with pre-eclampsia. The enlarging uterus can reduce preload by compressing the IVC and increase afterload by compressing the aorta. In the supine position, which is preferable for resuscitation, this compression can be exacerbated. 
  • Furthermore, as the uterus enlarges and limits diaphragmatic movement, functional residual capacity can decrease by 10-25%. At the same time, there is increased oxygen consumption due to metabolic and fetal demands. With limited reserve and increased oxygen demands, hypoventilation or apnea can rapidly precipitate hypoxemia.  
  • Cardiac output increases by 30-50% via increased stroke volume, and lesser extent HR, leading to increased circulating volume, making patients prone to pulmonary edema.  
  • Finally, pregnancy hormones can lead to airway edema and more friable tissue making intubation more difficult with increased risk of bleeding.  
  • For more on pregnancy physiology, enjoy:  

3. What are some aspects unique to advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) in pregnant patients? 

  • Cardiac arrest is inherently different than other cardiac arrest that we typically encounter as there are two patients: mother and the fetus.  
  • Chest compressions, delivery of shocks and medications can continue per standard adult ACLS algorithm.  
  • Importantly, while chest compressions are ongoing and patient is in the supine position, there should be continuous manual left uterine displacement (LUD) to relieve aortocaval compression. Furthermore, IVs should be established above the diaphragm so that intravenous infusions and medications are not impeded by caval compression of the uterus. 
  • Teams should be prepared for perimortem caesarean delivery (PMCD) and this should occur at the site of arrest. PMCD may facilitate return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) after the gravid uterus is emptied. 
  • PMCD should occur within four minutes due to a rapid decline in fetal survival with longer delays to delivery.  

4. What are the considerations for post-arrest care for pregnant patients? 

  • Targeted temperature management (TTM) is not contraindicated in pregnancy, and no necessary intervention should be withheld for fear of fetal damage. The primary focus should be maternal outcomes since that best serves fetal outcomes. 
  • If TTM is pursued, there should be continuous fetal monitoring. The patient should continue to be in the left lateral decubitus position if it does not compromise other management. Routine cardiac catheterization is certainly not recommended unless post-arrest EKG demonstrates clear signs of ischemia. 
  • Remember that embryogenesis is mostly complete by 12 weeks of gestation. Thus, the AHA recommends providing all necessary medications, even teratogenic medications (e.g., corticosteroids, phenytoin) especially if the cardiac arrest occurs after the first trimester.  

5. What is the data for extra-corporeal life support (ECLS) during pregnancy and postpartum 

  • There are no consensus guidelines, however, ECLS is not contraindicated in pregnancy and should be considered for life-threatening conditions. There is lack of long-term data for maternal and fetal outcomes.  
  • Although survival varied depending on indication, one systematic review of ECLS in peripartum patients showed overall 30-day survival of 75% for mother and 64% for fetus. Interestingly, survival in the immediate post-partum group was the highest. 
  • Complications includes bleeding, deep vein thrombosis, and vascular complications similar to the non-pregnant population.  


Arany Zolt, and Elkayam Uri. “Peripartum Cardiomyopathy.” Circulation 133, no. 14 (April 5, 2016): 1397–1409.

Campbell, Tabitha A, and Tracy G Sanson. “Cardiac Arrest and Pregnancy.” Journal of Emergencies, Trauma and Shock2, no. 1 (2009): 34–42. 

Jeejeebhoy Farida M., Zelop Carolyn M., Lipman Steve, Carvalho Brendan, Joglar Jose, Mhyre Jill M., Katz Vern L., et al. “Cardiac Arrest in Pregnancy.” Circulation 132, no. 18 (November 3, 2015): 1747–73. 

Gilotra, Nisha A, and Gerin R Stevens. “Temporary Mechanical Circulatory Support: A Review of the Options, Indications, and Outcomes.” Clinical Medicine Insights. Cardiology 8, no. Suppl 1 (February 3, 2015): 75–85. 

Naoum Emily E., Chalupka Andrew, Haft Jonathan, MacEachern Mark, Vandeven Cosmas J. M., Easter Sarah Rae, Maile Michael, Bateman Brian T., and Bauer Melissa E. “Extracorporeal Life Support in Pregnancy: A Systematic Review.” Journal of the American Heart Association 9, no. 13 (July 7, 2020): e016072. 

Sharma, Nirmal S., Keith M. Wille, Scott C. Bellot, and Enrique Diaz-Guzman. “Modern Use of Extracorporeal Life Support in Pregnancy and Postpartum.” ASAIO Journal 61, no. 1 (February 2015): 110–114. 

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