Cardiomyopathy is a disease that causes the heart muscle to become enlarged, thick or rigid. This condition makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. Cardiomyopathy can be caused by a number of different factors, which may produce different symptoms and require different treatments. Although it can be a serious condition that may lead to life-threatening complications, many cases of cardiomyopathy can be effectively treated to reduce symptoms and damage.

Types of Cardiomyopathy

There are several types of cardiomyopathy which vary based on the area of the heart that they affect, the cause, and the symptoms that they produce.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most common type of cardiomyopathy. It involves an enlarged left ventricle and as a result, the heart weakens and is unable to pump blood to the body. Men are more likely than women to have this type of cardiomyopathy.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the abnormal growth or thickening of the heart muscle. This condition makes it more difficult for blood to leave the heart and circulate. HCM can affect people of any age and is a common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in adolescents, especially athletes.

Restrictive Cardiomyopathy

Restrictive cardiomyopathy causes the ventricles to become stiff and rigid. It is caused by abnormal tissue, such as scar tissue, that replaces the normal heart muscle. Restrictive cardiomyopathy is more common in older adults.

Ischemic Cardiomyopathy

Ischemic cardiomyopathy is caused by a narrowing of the arteries that supply the heart with blood. As a result, walls of the heart become too thin or narrowed to pump blood effectively. Ischemic cardiomyopathy is often caused by coronary artery disease and heart attacks.

All forms of cardiomyopathy make it harder for the heart to pump and deliver blood to the rest of the body. Without treatment they may lead to heart failure.

Cause of Cardiomyopathy

Some cases of cardiomyopathy are inherited and others may be caused by an underlying condition or other factors. Possible causes of cardiomyopathy may include:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Viral infections that travel to the heart
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Chemotherapy drugs

Excessive and long-term alcohol consumption, poor nutrition, and drug abuse may also lead to cardiomyopathy. However, in many cases, the exact cause of the cardiomyopathy is unknown.

Symptoms of Cardiomyopathy

Some people with cardiomyopathy do not experience any symptoms at all. As cardiomyopathy progresses, symptoms may include:

  • Breathlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Swelling of legs, ankles and feet
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeat

Symptoms of cardiomyopathy often worsen over time.

Diagnosis of Cardiomyopathy

If cardiomyopathy is suspected, the individual may be referred to a cardiologist for a thorough examination. Cardiomyopathy may be diagnosed after a physical examination and a review of symptoms. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Electrocardiogram
  • Chest X-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • Cardiac MRI scan
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Biopsy

Blood tests are also administered to measure kidney function, protein and iron levels, and to look for anemia or any thyroid problems.

Treatment of Cardiomyopathy

Treatment for cardiomyopathy focuses on relieving symptoms and reducing the chance of complications. It may vary based on type of cardiomyopathy and the patient's individual condition. Initial treatment often includes lifestyle changes and medication. Other treatments include the following:

  • Pacemaker implantation
  • Cardioverter-defibrillator implantation
  • Septal myectomy
  • Angioplasty
  • Coronary artery bypass

In severe cases, a heart transplant may be necessary. Simple lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly and avoiding alcohol, drugs, and smoking, can sometimes help prevent cardiomyopathy.

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