BHF funds study into potentially fatal condition in new mums

Published: 15 June 2018

New research hopes to tackle a serious form of maternal heart failure

Mums who develop a serious form of heart failure during late pregnancy, or just after having their baby, could receive better treatment and advice following research funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).‌‌

A team at the BHF Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Glasgow has been awarded a grant to investigate the incidence and factors associated with the potentially devastating heart condition peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM), in the first such research to be carried out in the UK.

PPCM is a poorly understood and rare form of heart failure where the heart becomes enlarged and weakened. In the most serious cases it can lead to the need for a heart transplant, or can even be fatal.

Dr Pardeep Jhund and Professor Mark Petrie at the University of Glasgow have received £186,000 from the BHF to fund a three-year clinical research training fellowship, which will be taken up by trainee cardiologist Dr Alice Jackson.

Dr Jhund explained: “PPCM affects women towards the end of their pregnancy, or in the first few months after childbirth. While some women make a full recovery, in others their heart function worsens and this can be fatal. Women who develop PPCM are at risk of life threatening complications like severe heart rhythm disturbances even causing cardiac arrest, or blood clots in the brain, causing a stroke, or the lung. And it is not just the mother who is affected, as babies born to mothers with PPCM are more likely to be born prematurely.

“There are currently no studies of PPCM in the UK, and very few in Europe. To better treat women we must first understand the condition and its impact not only on women but also their babies.”

Dr Jackson will use existing data held by NHS Scotland Information Services Division to build up a picture of PPCM. During her research, she’ll collaborate with world experts on PPCM.

Dr Jhund added: “Every hospital admission in Scotland, for the past 30 years, has been recorded and we can use this unique resource to obtain information about the mother’s background, past medical conditions, subsequent illnesses, the baby’s birth and further pregnancies.

“We will investigate how many women have been admitted to hospital with PPCM, what factors are associated with it and what the outcomes were for the women and their children.

“Better understanding of the factors associated with a greater chance of developing PPCM will allow us to better treat mothers with the condition. We can talk to them about their condition, help them make informed choices about their care and we may also identify new areas for research into treatments.”

Dr Shannon Amoils, Senior Research Advisor at the BHF, said: “While PPCM is rare it can have devastating consequences. The BHF is proud to be funding the first UK study into the epidemiology of this important, but under researched, condition. By comprehensively cataloguing the factors associated with developing PPCM, and its prognosis for mum and baby, we will gain a much better understanding of the condition and may identify future directions for new treatments.”

James Cant, Director at BHF Scotland, said: “Once again, our funded scientists at the BHF’s Centre of Research Excellence in Glasgow are being bold in their quest to beat heartbreak for Scotland’s families.
“Scientific exploration like this is only possible thanks to the Scottish public’s generous fundraising, donations and legacies."

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First published: 15 June 2018

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