NCP Cardiac Conditions

Cardiac Conditions

During pregnancy blood volume increases as much as 50% above the nonpregnant level and is accompanied by increases in maternal heart rate and stroke volume necessitating a drop in systemic and pulmonary vascular resistance. The client with heart disease may not be able to readily accommodate the higher workload of pregnancy as a result of decreased cardiac reserves.

(This plan of care is to be used in conjunction with the Trimesters and The High-Risk Pregnancy.)



Inability to carry on normal activities

Nocturnal/exertion-related dyspnea; orthopnea


Tachycardia, palpitations; severe dysrhythmia.

History of congenital/organic heart disease, rheumatic fever.

Upward displacement of the diaphragm and heart proportionate to uterine size.

May have a continuous diastolic or presystolic murmur; cardiac enlargement; loud systolic murmur, associated with a thrill.

BP may be elevated or may be decreased with decreased vascular resistance.

Clubbing of toes and fingers may be present, with symmetric cyanosis in surgically untreated tetralogy of Fallot.


Urine output may be decreased.



Obesity (risk factor)

May have edema of the lower extremities


May report chest pain with/without activity


Cough; may or may not be productive.


Respiratory rate may be increased.

Dyspnea/shortness of breath, orthopnea may be reported.

Rales may be present.


Repeated streptococcal infections


Possible history of valve replacement/prosthetic device, mitral valve prolapse, Marfan’s syndrome, surgically treated/untreated (rare) tetralogy of Fallot

Diagnostic Studies

White Blood Cell (WBC) Count: Leukocytosis indicative of generalized infection, primarily streptococcal.

Hemoglobin (Hg)/Hematocrit (Hct): Reveals actual versus physiological anemia; polycythemia.

Maternal Arterial Blood Gases: Provide secondary assessment of potential fetal compromise due to maternal respiratory involvement.

Sedimentation Rate: Elevated in the presence of cardiac inflammation.

Maternal Electrocardiogram (ECG): Demonstrates patterns associated with specific cardiac disorders, dysrhythmias.

Echocardiography: Diagnoses mitral valve prolapse or Marfan’s syndrome.

Radionuclide Cardiac Imaging: Evaluates suspected atrial or ventricular septal defects, patent ductus arteriosus, or intracardiac shunts.

Serial Ultrasonography: Detects gestational age of fetus and possible IUGR.


  1. Monitor degree/progression of symptoms.
  2. Promote client involvement in control of condition and self-care.
  3. Monitor fetal well-being.
  4. Support client/couple toward culmination of a safe delivery.
Discharge goals

Inpatient care not required unless complications develop.

NURSING DIAGNOSIS:                                                               Cardiac Output, risk for [decompensation]

Risk Factors May Include:                                                             Increased circulating volume, dysrhythmias, altered myocardial contractility, inotropic changes in the heart

Possibly Evidenced By:                                                                   [Not applicable; presence of signs/symptoms establishes an actual diagnosis]

DESIRED OUTCOMES/EVALUATION                                    Identify/adopt behaviors to minimize stressors and

CRITERIA—CLIENT WILL:                                                     maximize cardiac function.

Tolerate the stress of increasing blood volume as indicated by BP and pulse within individually appropriate limits.

Demonstrate adequate placental circulation, kidney function with FHR and fetal movement WNL, and individually appropriate urine output.


ACTIONS/INTERVENTIONS                                   RATIONALE


Determine/monitor client’s functional                             Useful for identifying client needs/limitations,
classification (as outlined by the New York                      effectiveness of therapies, and progression/
Heart Association):                                                                remission of condition.

Class I: No limitation of physical activity,
no discomfort during exertion

Class II: Ordinary activity may cause symptoms
of palpitation, dyspnea, and angina

Class III: Less than ordinary activity causes
cardiac symptoms, such as fatigue,
dyspnea, and angina

Class IV: Symptoms of cardiac insufficiency
occur in the absence of physical activity,
and mortality risk per Clark’s classification
system of risk status for pregnant women.

Provide information about the necessity of                                            Minimizes cardiac stress and conserves energy.
adequate rest (e.g., 8–10 hr at night and 1/2 hr                                         Class IV clients may require bedrest for the
after each meal).                                                                                     duration of the pregnancy. (Refer to ND: Activity
Intolerance, risk for.)

Discuss use of left or right lateral position.                                            The occurrence of supine hypotension possibly to the
point of loss of consciousness can be prevented if the
client avoids the supine position and adopts the
lateral recumbent resting position.

Monitor vital signs.                                                                                The beginning stage of decompensation caused by
intolerance of circulatory load, infection, or anxiety
may first be noted by an insidious change in the vital
sign pattern, associated with increased temperature,
pulse (110 bpm or greater), respiration (greater than
20–34/min), and BP.

Auscultate client’s breath sounds.                                                          Congestive heart failure (CHF) may develop,
especially in clients whose functional classification is
class III or IV. Conversely, clients with mitral valve
prolapse may be symptom-free during pregnancy,
owing to the increase in left ventricular volume, yet
are at high risk for involvement related to chest pain,
palpitations, and possibly death after delivery.

Evaluate FHR, daily fetal movement count, and                                    Fetal hypoxia caused by beginning stage of
NST results as indicated. (Refer to CP: The High-                                maternal cardiac decompensation may be noted in
Risk Pregnancy; ND: Injury, risk for fetal.)                                           the form of tachycardia, bradycardia, or reduction
in fetal activity.

Assess for evidence of venostasis with resulting                                   Prolonged positioning of legs and ankles below
dependent edema of extremities or generalized                                     the level of the heart further impairs venous return
edema. Instruct client to elevate legs when sitting                                 in an already stressed circulatory system and
down and periodically during the day.                                                   places the client at risk for PIH.

Instruct client to monitor fluid intake/output.                                         Although intake and output should be
(Refer to ND: Fluid Volume, risk for excess.)                                       approximately the same, cardiovascular involvement
may negatively affect kidney function, resulting in

Investigate reports of chest pain and palpitations.                                 Clients with mitral valve prolapse may develop
Recommend limiting caffeine as appropriate.                                        arrhythmias resulting in chest pain and palpitations.
Limiting caffeine may reduce frequency of episodes.

Review medication needs and reason for conversion                            Because of its large molecular size, heparin sodium
to heparin by warfarin (Coumadin) users.                                              does not cross the placenta, as does warfarin; also,
heparin may prevent clot formation in the client with
valve prosthesis/atrial fibrillation.

Instruct client in self-administration of medication                               Involves client in therapeutic process, and
such as heparin. Observe return demonstration of                                 promotes self-care.
procedure by client.

Assess for/review signs of ecchymosis, epistaxis,                                 Signs of bleeding may indicate a need to reduce
and so forth during anticoagulant therapy.                                             heparin dosage.


Participate in/coordinate multispecialty care                                         Provides opportunity to review management of
conference as appropriate.                                                                      both pregnancy and cardiac condition, and to plan
for special needs during intrapartum and postpartum

Administer medications such as digitalis glycosides                             Cardiac stress brought on by increased demand
(digoxin or digitoxin) or propranolol (Inderal) as                                  for output is greatest between 28 and 32
indicated. Monitor for early labor.                                                          weeks’ gestation, then levels off until delivery.
Digitalis glycosides maximize ventricular
contractions, but increased plasma volume
may lower circulating levels of the drug,
necessitating increased or more frequent
doses. Digitalis has a direct effect on the
myometrium, often causing early labor as
well as shortening the length of labor. Propranolol
may be used to control dysrhythmias associated
with mitral valve prolapse. Note: Although
these drugs cross the placenta and have no
reported teratogenic effects, studies have not
yet clearly established their safety in pregnancy.
In addition, ACE inhibitors are contraindicated
because of the risk of fetal death or intractable
neonatal renal failure.

Administer loading dose of heparin.                                                       Warfarin users should have their anticoagulant
converted to heparin. Initial dose may be
administered intravenously by healthcare

Treat underlying infections as necessary, e.g.,                                       Cardiac decompensation may develop/is
respiratory, and provide prophylaxis as necessary.                                worsened by superimposed upper respiratory
(Refer to ND: Infection, risk for maternal.)                                            infection, which is usually associated with
coughing and increased secretions, and which
may mask deterioration of cardiac function.
Prophylactic antibiotics help prevent
bacterial endocarditis in client with diseased
heart valves.

Using sequential serum/urine estriol levels and                                     Reduced cardiac function may negatively affect
CST/NST, assess placental functioning. (Refer to CP:                          placental functioning.
The High-Risk Pregnancy; ND: Injury, risk for

Obtain/review sequential ECGs.                                                            May demonstrate pathological pattern if
decompensation is present; may identify type of

Monitor laboratory studies, such as clotting times                                 Prolonged clotting times may indicate need to
and electrolyte levels.                                                                             adjust heparin dosage. Hyponatremia/
hypokalemia may occur, owing to reduced sodium
intake or diuretic therapy with imbalances
potentiating-development/aggravation of

Encourage use of antithrombotic stockings.                                           Promotes venous return; limits venous stasis.

Prepare client for hospitalization as warranted                                      Clients with a functional classification of class II
by her condition.                                                                                     through class IV are usually hospitalized 2 wk before
expected delivery, because likelihood of
decompensation is greatest during the latter part of
the third trimester. Clients with class IV function may
be hospitalized earlier in the pregnancy, depending
on fetal status/developing complications.

Monitor hemodynamic pressures using arterial                                     CVP lines measure venous return/circulating
and central venous pressure (CVP) lines or Swan-                                volume; the Swan-Ganz catheter may be required
Ganz catheter to monitor pulmonary artery wedge                                to monitor pulmonary pressures and, indirectly,
pressure as indicated.                                                                              left-sided heart function in client hospitalized for
progressive CHF.

NURSING DIAGNOSIS:                                                               Fluid Volume risk for excess

Risk Factors May Include:                                                             Increasing circulating volume, changes in renal function, dietary indiscretion

Possibly Evidenced By:                                                                   [Not applicable; presence of signs/symptoms establishes an actual diagnosis]

DESIRED OUTCOMES/EVALUATION                                    Demonstrate stable fluid balance with vital signs

CRITERIA—CLIENT WILL:                                                     WNL, appropriate weight gain, absence of edema.

Verbalize understanding of restrictions/therapy needs.

List signs that require notification of care provider.

ACTIONS/INTERVENTIONS                                   RATIONALE


Obtain baseline weight. Instruct client to monitor                                 Weight gain exceeding the normal 2–21/2 lb/wk
her weight at home periodically as indicated.                                         may indicate accumulating fluid and potential
CHF. If weight gain is sudden, rule out toxemia.

Review dietary intake, noting factors that may                                      Improper diet, specifically a deficiency of protein
contribute to excessive fluid retention; provide                                     and excess of sodium, contributes to fluid
information as needed.                                                                            retention.

Instruct client to monitor amount and color                                           Decreased output, dark amber urine; increasing
(concentration) of urine. Measure specific gravity as                            specific gravity may reflect impaired renal
appropriate during home/office visit.                                                     perfusion associated with developing CHF.

Assess for/review signs of CHF with client (e.g.,                                  Indicates developing failure and need for
dyspnea, distended neck veins, crackles, hemoptysis,                           immediate treatment. The normal increase of 1300
and so forth).                                                                                           ml in circulatory volume that occurs in pregnancy
can put stress on the cardiac system. Further increase
of fluid can be especially dangerous for the client
with existing cardiac problems.

Investigate unexplained cough.                                                              Cough unrelated to respiratory problems may
indicate developing CHF.


Restrict fluids and sodium in presence of CHF.                                    Minimizes risk of fluid retention/overload.

Administer diuretics, e.g., chlorothiazide (Diuril),                                Helps rid body of excess fluid resistant to
hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ), furosemide (Lasix),                                conservative treatment of rest and decreased
as appropriate.                                                                                         sodium intake.

NURSING DIAGNOSIS:                                                               Tissue Perfusion, risk for altered: uteroplacental

Risk Factors May Include:                                                             Changes in circulating volume, right-to-left shunt

Possibly Evidenced By:                                                                   [Not applicable; presence of signs/symptoms establishes an actual diagnosis]

DESIRED OUTCOMES/EVALUATION                                    Display BP, pulse, ABGs, and WBC count WNL.

CRITERIA—CLIENT WILL:                                                     Demonstrate adequate placental perfusion as

indicated by reactive fetus with heart rate ranging from 120–160 bpm and size appropriate for gestational age.

ACTIONS/INTERVENTIONS                                   RATIONALE


Note individual risk factors and pregravid state.                                    Any preexisting cardiac problems complicated by
increased circulatory needs during pregnancy may
result in impaired tissue oxygenation. Note: Such
problems are greater in the older client with obesity
and long-standing cardiac involvement.

Assess BP and pulse. Note behavior changes,                                       Tachycardia (heart rate greater than 110 bpm) at rest,
cyanosis of mucous membranes and nail beds,                                      increasing BP, and behavior changes may indicate
activity intolerance, and signs of decompensation                                 early cardiac failure or hypoxia. A fall in peripheral
(i.e., excessive weight gain, unexplained cough,                                   vascular resistance may result in a worsening of right-
crackles/wheezes, hemoptysis, and increased                                        to-left shunting and cyanosis. Presence of cyanosis, a
pulse and respiratory rate).                                                                     late sign of hypoxia, reflects severe problems and
indicates severity of tissue damage and cardiac

Provide information about use of modified upright                               Eases respiratory rate by reducing pressure of the
position for sleeping and resting.                                                            enlarging uterus on the diaphragm and helps
increase vertical diameter for lung expansion. Helps
prevent venous stasis in lower extremities.


Monitor laboratory studies as indicated:

Pulse oximetry/ABGs;                                                                        Reflects adequacy of ventilation and oxygenation.

Hb/Hct;                                                                                               Anemia further reduces oxygen-carrying capacity of
blood and may require treatment.

WBC count, culture of upper/lower respiratory                                 Any respiratory involvement reduces intake of oxygen.
secretions.                                                                                      Infection increases metabolic rates and oxygen needs
and may have a negative impact on tissue oxygenation.

Assess uterine/fetal blood flow using NST/CST;                                   Uterine/placental hypoxia reduces fetal activity
check estriol levels and FHR. (Refer to CP: The High-                         and FHR, and presents as late decelerations on
Risk Pregnancy; ND: Injury, risk for fetal.)                                           CST. Hypoxia may result in placental deterioration
and falling estriol levels.

NURSING DIAGNOSIS:                                                               Infection, risk for maternal

Risk Factors May Include:                                                             Inadequate primary/secondary defenses, chronic disease/condition, insufficient information to avoid exposure to pathogens

Possibly Evidenced By:                                                                   [Not applicable; presence of signs/symptoms establishes an actual diagnosis]

DESIRED OUTCOMES/EVALUATION                                    Identify/adopt behaviors to reduce individual risk.


                                                                                                           Remain free of bacterial infection.

Demonstrate appropriate use of antimicrobial agents, as indicated.

ACTIONS/INTERVENTIONS                                   RATIONALE


Assess for individual risk factors and history of                                    There is increased risk of bacterial endocarditis in
rheumatic fever.                                                                                      the prenatal client with underlying heart disease,
such as valvular damage caused by rheumatic or
congenital processes, mitral valve prolapse,
ventricular septal defect, tetralogy of Fallot,
pulmonic stenosis, coarctation of the aorta, or
prosthetic valve.

Provide information about risk of bacterial                                            The client with a prosthetic valve is at high risk for
endocarditis during specific medical-surgical                                        bacterial endocarditis and emboli, even in an
procedures.                                                                                              uncomplicated vaginal delivery. Transient
bacteremia may occur following invasive
procedures, including dental work. (About 60%–
90% of clients develop bacteremia after dental

Review signs/symptoms suggestive of infectious                                  Prompt recognition of problem facilitates timely
processes requiring notification of healthcare                                        intervention.
provider, e.g., fever, malaise, cough, cloudy/
odiferous urine.


Assess urine periodically, note pH, and presence                                  Bacturia may be asymptomatic and lead to
of bacteria.                                                                                               bacteremia if untreated.

Obtain cultures as indicated.                                                                   Useful in identifying infecting agent/appropriate

Administer penicillin PO or IM, when indicated.                                   Prophylactic antibiotics may be recommended for
prevention of streptococal infection during
pregnancy, especially in the client with history of
rheumatic fever.

NURSING DIAGNOSIS:                                                               Activity Intolerance, risk for

Risk Factors May Include:                                                             Presence of circulatory problems, previous episodes of intolerance, deconditioned status

Possibly Evidenced By:                                                                   [Not applicable; presence of signs/symptoms establishes an actual diagnosis]

DESIRED OUTCOMES/EVALUATION                                    Demonstrate self-responsibility for monitoring

CRITERIA—CLIENT WILL:                                                     activity tolerance/intolerance.

Adopt behaviors to maximize tolerance.

Take appropriate actions if cardiac/respiratory symptoms arise.

ACTIONS/INTERVENTIONS                                   RATIONALE


Assess for development of subjective/objective                                    Indicates a worsening of the cardiac condition,
symptoms (e.g., lessening of tolerance to ordinary                                evidenced by a decrease in the client’s functional
physical activity, fatigue, cyanosis, inability to carry                            capacity.
on normal daily activities, increasing dyspnea with
or without physical activity, nocturnal dyspnea,
change in pulse rate, development of respiratory

Review signs/symptoms with the client and                                          Promotes self-care and timely medical
significant other(s).                                                                                 interventions.

Assist client in setting priorities and restructuring                           Circulatory/respiratory impairment may interfere
daily routine to include needed rest/sleep periods.                           with ability to perform activities of daily living
Determine expectations of client and partner.                                   (ADLs) and may result in fatigue. Activity is
Explore conflicts/differences.                                                               limited in relation to the extent of cardiac
impairment. Clients with class I or II limitation may
only need to include midmorning and
midafternoon rest periods, whereas class III or
class IV clients may need bedrest for much or
all of the day.

Identify energy conserving methods to accomplish                               May enable client to manage activities more
necessary ADLs.                                                                                    effectively.

Ascertain effectiveness of household assistance and                             May be needed to maximize rest, limit fatigue, and
available resources.                                                                                 preserve cardiac function.


Refer to home care agency, community resources                                 Can provide additional assistance when necessary.
as indicated.

Refer to occupational therapist (OT), physical                                      May be helpful in identifying assistive
therapist (PT), as appropriate.                                                                 techniques/devices to conserve energy and
accomplish desired ADLs.

NURSING DIAGNOSIS:                                                               Knowledge deficit [Learning Need], regarding condition, prognosis, and treatment needs

May Be Related To:                                                                        Lack of exposure to and/or misinterpretation of information

Possibly Evidenced By:                                                                   Request for information, statement of misconception, inaccurate follow-through of instructions

DESIRED OUTCOMES/EVALUATION                                    Verbalize understanding of individual condition

CRITERIA—CLIENT WILL:                                                     and treatment needs.

Identify symptoms indicating deterioration of
cardiac functioning.

Intervene and/or notify healthcare provider appropriately.

ACTIONS/INTERVENTIONS                                   RATIONALE


Assess understanding of pathology/complications                                 Establishes data base for health teaching.
regarding cardiac condition and pregnancy.                                           Increasingly severe cardiac symptoms may
Review history, incidence of complications,                                          indicate client’s need for more information and/or
and so forth.                                                                                            assistance to manage necessary self-care.

Discuss necessity for frequent monitoring; i.e., every                           Provides for early detection of problems and
2 wk during first 20 wk, then every week                                              prompt intervention.
until delivery.

Provide information about symptoms indicative                                    Symptoms associated with decompensation
of cardiac involvement, such as shortness of breath,                              should be differentiated from symptoms
cough, palpitations, unusual or rapid weight gain                                  associated with PIH. (Refer to CP: Pregnancy-
(i.e., 2.2–4.4 lb or 1–2 kg in a 2-day period), edema,                             Induced Hypertension; ND: Fluid Volume deficit.)
or anorexia.

Provide information as appropriate regarding                                        Enhances informed decision making, helps reduce
diet, rest/sleep, exercise, and relaxation.                                                 likelihood of complications. The impact of pregnancy
superimposed on an existing cardiac problem may
necessitate changes in lifestyle. An understanding of
techniques designed to lessen cardiac stress may
require the acquisition of new knowledge.

Review need/techniques to avoid infection.                                           Resistance may be lowered because of general

Review side effects of both prescription and                                         Determines client’s level of knowledge and
OTC drugs.                                                                                             provides current information.

Discuss special considerations, such as need to                                     Such foods counteract/alter anticoagulant drug
avoid foods high in vitamin K (raw, deep-green                                    effect.
leafy vegetables) when on anticoagulants.

Include healthcare team in teaching/planning.                                        Provides continuity and completeness of care.

Provide appropriate information for protocol of                                    May foster self-responsibility and reduce anxiety.
care in home/community/hospital setting.

Identify support groups, community resources.                                     May serve as role model for necessary adaptations,
enhance coping ability, and provide encouragement
for a successful outcome.

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