Cardiac arrhythmias in pregnancy: clinical and therapeutic considerations

Int J Cardiol. 2003 Apr;88(2-3):129-33. doi: 10.1016/s0167-5273(02)00601-0.


Pregnancy can precipitate cardiac arrhythmias not previously present in seemingly well individuals. Risk of arrhythmias is relatively higher during labor and delivery. Potential factors that can promote arrhythmias in pregnancy and during labor and delivery include the direct cardiac electrophysiological effects of hormones, changes in autonomic tone, hemodynamic perturbations, hypokalemia of pregnancy, and underlying heart disease. Paroxysmal supraventricular and ventricular tachycardia may cause hemodynamic compromise with consequences to the fetus. Management of arrhythmias in pregnant women is similar to that in non-pregnant but a special consideration must be given to avoid adverse fetal effects. No drug therapy is usually needed for the management of supraventricular or ventricular premature beats, but potential stimulants, such as smoking, caffeine, and alcohol should be eliminated. In paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, vagal stimulation maneuvers should be tried first. Adenosine or a cardioselective beta-blocker could be used if vagal maneuvers are ineffective. Alternatively, verapamil or diltiazem may be given. In pregnant women with atrial fibrillation, the goal of treatment is conversion to sinus rhythm or to control ventricular rate by a cardioselective beta-adrenergic blocker drug or digoxin. Ventricular arrhythmias may occur in the pregnant women with cardiomyopathy, congenital heart disease, valvular heart disease, or mitral valve prolapse. Termination of ventricular arrhythmias can usually be achieved by intravenous lidocaine or procainamide or by electrical cardioversion. Amiodarone is not safe for the fetus. Beta-blocker therapy must be continued during pregnancy and postpartum period in women with long QT syndrome and torsade de pointes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / etiology*
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / physiopathology
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / etiology*
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy Complications / therapy*
  • Risk Factors