Altered maternal left ventricular contractility and function during normal pregnancy


Correspondence to: Dr S. Aakhus, Department of Cardiology, Oslo University Hospital, Rikshospitalet, 0027 Oslo, Norway (e-mail:



To evaluate maternal left ventricular (LV) systolic and diastolic function during normal pregnancy by non-invasive measures of LV contractility incorporating loading conditions.


Sixty-five women were examined using echocardiography, including tissue Doppler and two-dimensional speckle tracking, and subclavian artery pulse trace recordings at gestational weeks 14–16, 22–24 and 36, and at 6 months postpartum.


The mean ± SD age of the women was 32.0 ± 4.6 years. Cardiac output and LV end-diastolic volume were on average 20% and 23% higher, respectively, during pregnancy, compared to that at 6 months postpartum (both, P < 0.01). LV ejection fraction, global peak systolic strain and rate-corrected LV velocity of circumferential fiber shortening (Vcfc) were 11%, 6% and 6% lower, respectively, at 36 weeks' gestation compared to at 6 months postpartum (all, P < 0.01). Afterload, measured as LV end-systolic wall stress (ESWS) increased by 10% between 14–16 and 36 weeks' gestation (P < 0.01). Analysis of the relationship between Vcfc and ESWS revealed that LV contractility was lower during pregnancy than at 6 months postpartum. Changes in diastolic function were demonstrated by 11% lower mitral early diastolic (E) wave velocity, 8% lower tissue Doppler early diastolic velocity (e′) and 13% higher left atrial area (all P < 0.01) during pregnancy. Tissue Doppler E/e′ remained unaltered (P = 0.78).


During normal pregnancy, LV contractility is lower than it is at 6 months postpartum. This is associated with increased LV and left atrial area, whereas filling pressures are unchanged. These findings suggest that pregnancy exerts a larger load on the cardiovascular system than previously assumed. Copyright © 2012 ISUOG. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.