REBIRTH trial seeks answers on heart failure in new moms

Monday, March 11, 2024
REBIRTH trial seeks answers on heart failure in new moms
REBIRTH is a nationwide health trial aimed at getting answers on causes and treatments for postpartum heart failure.

SHAMONG, New Jersey -- Women face many potential complications during pregnancy, including postpartum cardiomyopathy, a form of heart failure that can show up after they give birth.

High blood pressure was a real concern for Chelsi Svenson-Boyce during her long labor.

"When I started pushing, my blood pressure went up and his heart rate dropped," Svenson-Boyce recalls.

Jackson, her first child, arrived safe and sound.

But Svenson-Boyce had a hard time in the days afterward, feeling very tired and out of breath.

"I was on the phone with my aunt, I wasn't catching my breath," she says.

Fortunately, her aunt told her to call 911.

"When I got in the ambulance, my blood pressure was 185 over 95. they started a magnesium IV on me right away," she says.

Doctors there said it was pneumonia, but after a transfer to Temple University Hospital, Svenson-Boyce learned the real cause.

"That's when Dr. Crabbe diagnosed me with heart failure and not pneumonia," Svenson-Boyce notes.

Cardiologist Dr. Deborah Crabbe says postpartum cardiomyopathy, or PPCM, occurs between the last month of pregnancy to five months after delivery.

"The heart muscle has weakened, and its pumping action is no longer as effective," Dr. Crabbe explains, adding, "You might see shortness of breath, swelling of the legs, difficulty walking."

Risk factors include having multiple pregnancies, high blood pressure - including preeclampsia, being over 35 years of age, or being a woman of color.

The standard treatment has been a regimen of four medications.

But because they don't help everyone, the federal REBIRTH study has been launched at 60 sites in the U-S and Canada - including Temple.

It is testing bromocriptine, a drug targeting a hormone that can be toxic to the heart.

"Blocking that particular substance early on may have an improvement in heart function," says Dr. Crabbe.

She believes REBIRTH will unlock many secrets about the whole process of PPCM.

"This is going to be very monumental," she says.

Svenson-Boyce says getting to Temple when she did saved her heart and maybe her life.

She urges other moms-to-be or new moms to listen to their bodies and seek help if something doesn't seem right.

"For your safety, definitely get checked. Because you never know," Svenson-Boyce says.

New moms are eligible for the REBIRTH trial, even if they didn't give birth at Temple.