Objective: To investigate the hemodynamic changes occurring in normal pregnancy and to see if these changes were associated with an increase in myocardial contractility.
Methods: In a longitudinal study, primigravidas were studied with echocardiography in early (15 +/- 1.8 weeks), mid (26 +/- 1.2 weeks), and late (36 +/- 1.0 weeks) gestation, as well as at 6 weeks postpartum. Cardiac dimensions were measured with two-dimensional and M-mode echocardiography and hemodynamic indices were calculated. All measurements were made with subjects in the left lateral decubitus position. Statistical analysis was performed with repeated measures analysis of variance.
Results: Seventy-six women with normal pregnancy outcomes completed all four studies. From the baseline study to late gestation, an increase in cardiac output of 27% (from [mean +/- standard error] 4.2 +/- 0.1 to 5.8 +/- 0.2 L/min, P = .001), and a decrease in total peripheral resistance of 33% (from 1356 +/- 69 to 941 +/- 37 dynes/second cm-5, P = .001) occurred. Over this same time period, left ventricular function, while demonstrating a small and non-significant increase in velocity of circumferential fiber shortening (from 1.25 +/- 0.02 to 1.27 +/- 0.02 cm/second), revealed a 12% decrease in wall stress (from 36.3 +/- 1.0 to 31.9 +/- 1.0 g/cm2, P = .001) and a 13% decrease in the load-independent wall stress to velocity of circumferential fiber shortening ratio (from 30.0 +/- 1.2 to 26.1 +/- 1.0, P = .01), implying enhanced intrinsic myocardial contractility.
Conclusion: Normal pregnancy is characterized by enhanced myocardial performance.