Purpose: To underline the crucial role of urgent echocardiography in the differential diagnosis of acute respiratory and/or circulatory failure in the postpartum period.
Clinical features: A 24-yr-old woman was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) with a preliminary diagnosis of pulmonary embolism (PE) one week after Cesarean section. Neither computerized tomography nor Doppler sonography showed any signs of deep venous thrombosis or PE. In the ICU she required intubation and ventilatory support for acute respiratory and circulatory failure. Bedside echocardiography revealed features of left ventricular failure. A diagnosis of postpartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM) was made, appropriate treatment instituted and the patient soon improved. A 29-yr-old, previously healthy primipara presented at the Maternity Clinic on the fourth postpartum day complaining of increasing dyspnea and fatigue. Within eight hours she required intubation, ventilatory support and subsequent defibrillation due to cardiac arrest. She was transferred to the ICU with a preliminary diagnosis of PE. She developed pulmonary edema followed by cardiac arrest with successful resuscitation. Bedside echocardiography revealed a left ventricular ejection fraction below 30% with an increased systolic diameter of the left ventricle, restrictive diastolic abnormalities and no signs of pulmonary hypertension. Peripartum cardiomyopathy was diagnosed and supportive treatment for heart failure was instituted.
Conclusion: It is possible to misdiagnose postpartum cardiomyopathy for PE. An error in diagnosis is life-threatening for the patient. Echocardiography is a valuable tool in the differential diagnosis. As a noninvasive procedure, it should be performed at the bedside as soon as possible to institute proper treatment and to avoid potentially fatal errors.