Conditions affecting the myocardium (heart muscle) are called cardiomyopathy. Which causes your heart to stiffen, enlarge, or thicken, as well as scar tissue. As a result, your heart cannot effectively pump blood to the rest of your body.
The heart can weaken over time, and cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure. Treatment can be beneficial and patients may eventually require a heart transplant.
What types of cardiomyopathy are there?
The most common forms of cardiomyopathy are:
- Dilated Cardiomyopathy: The chambers of your heart become enlarged, affecting its ability to pump blood effectively.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: The muscle in your heart thickens, which can disrupt its normal function.
- Arrhythmic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD): Conditions that affect your heart muscle, causing irregular heart rhythms.
- Restrictive Cardiomyopathy: Injury or hardening of the heart muscle, leading to restricted blood flow and impaired heart function.
- Transthyretin amyloid cardiomyopathy (ATTR-CM): An abnormal buildup of protein in the left ventricle, the main chamber responsible for pumping blood. This can affect the heart’s ability to function properly.
Some cardiomyopathies do not fit into these general categories. These conditions are:
- Broken heart syndrome (stress-induced or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy): Temporary enlargement of the heart caused by emotional or physical stress.
- Chemotherapy-induced cardiomyopathy: Heart damage that can occur as a side effect of cancer treatment, specifically chemotherapy.
- Peripartum cardiomyopathy: Heart failure that happens during or after pregnancy, affecting women in the peripartum period.
How does it affect your body?
As cardiomyopathy worsens, other heart problems may develop, including:
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia): Abnormalities in the rhythm of your heart, causing it to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly.
- Heart defect: Abnormalities or structural problems in the heart present from birth, affecting its normal function.
- Heart valve problems, including valvular heart disease: Issues with the valves of your heart, which can disrupt blood flow and lead to conditions such as stenosis (narrowing) or regurgitation (leakage).
How does cardiomyopathy affect children and adolescents?
Childhood cardiomyopathy can affect children and adolescents of any gender, race, or age. It is more likely to occur in infants than in older children.
Children can inherit cardiomyopathy. Less commonly, people can develop cardiomyopathy due to viral infections. In about 75% of cases, providers don’t know what’s causing it.
Some children may not show symptoms of cardiomyopathy until they experience sudden cardiac arrest. However, early detection and treatment can improve outcomes for children.
Children diagnosed with this condition require regular care from a cardiologist. You take medicine daily depending on the cause, type, and stage of cardiomyopathy; many children and adolescents can live with few lifestyle restrictions.
How common is it?
Cardiomyopathy can target people of any age or race. Cardiomyopathy affects approximately one in every 500 adults.
Some types are more common in certain people than others. Dilated cardiomyopathy, for example, is more prevalent in Black people. Males are more likely to develop dilated and arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy.
What causes cardiomyopathy?
Health professionals can classify based on common causes. These two categories are:
- Ischemic cardiomyopathy is caused by a heart attack or coronary artery disease (CAD).
- Nonischemic cardiomyopathy is a type that is not associated with CAD.
Sometimes experts do not know the cause of cardiomyopathy (idiopathic). Several factors or conditions can increase the risk of cardiomyopathy, including:
- Autoimmune diseases like connective tissue disease can lead to cardiomyopathy.
- Conditions associated with high cholesterol levels, hemochromatosis, or sarcoidosis, such as diseases that harm the heart.
- Endocrine disorders like thyroid and diabetes can contribute to heart-related issues.
- A family history of heart failure or sudden cardiac arrest.
- Past heart attack.
What are the symptoms of cardiomyopathy?
Some people have no symptoms of cardiomyopathy. Others may experience the following symptoms as the disease progresses:
- Rapid heartbeat (palpitations).
- Difficulty breathing (shortness of breath or dyspnea).
- Edema, specifically swelling in the legs, calves, and ankles.
- Loss of consciousness (fainting).
What tests are needed to diagnose?
If your healthcare provider suspects you have heart disease, see a cardiologist (cardiologist). A cardiologist will perform a complete evaluation that includes various diagnostic tests. You may have:
- Ambulatory monitoring utilizes a device that tracks your heart rhythm.
- Cardiac CT uses X-rays to create a video of your blood vessels and heart.
- A cardiac MRI uses radio waves and magnets to generate heart images.
- An echocardiogram uses sound waves to create images of blood flow and heartbeat.
- An electrocardiogram (ECG) records the electrical activity of the heart.
- A stress test increases your heart rate in a controlled way to see how your heart responds.
- Cardiac catheterization uses a catheter (a thin tube inserted through a blood vessel) to measure blood flow and pressure in the heart.
- A myocardial biopsy examines a small sample of heart muscle tissue to look for cell changes.
How is cardiomyopathy treated?
Treatment of cardiomyopathy focuses on treating symptoms. Treatment also slows disease progression. Have regular check-ups to keep track of your heart health. Your doctor may recommend the following:
Cardiac medicines can improve blood flow, relieve symptoms, and treat underlying conditions. You can take blood thinners such as warfarin, beta-blockers or cholesterol-lowering drugs.
A pacemaker, or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), treats arrhythmias. These devices monitor your heart rate. When an arrhythmia begins, it sends electrical impulses to the heart.
Devices for improving blood circulation
Some devices help the heart pump blood more efficiently. Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) devices control contractions between the left and right sides of the heart. The heart is assisted in pumping blood by a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).
Your doctor may recommend heart surgery if you have severe symptoms or an underlying heart condition. Open-heart surgery or heart transplantation is usually not recommended until all other treatments have failed.
How can I care for myself with cardiomyopathy?
Lifestyle choices can influence the rate of progression of the condition. To manage symptoms and improve heart health, your doctor may recommend the following:
- Reach and maintain your ideal weight based on your height and age.
- Follow a heart-healthy diet, including reducing your sodium intake.
- Engage in regular exercise.
- Limit alcohol consumption as advised.
- Effectively manage and reduce stress.
- Refrain from smoking.
Is there a cure for cardiomyopathy?
There is no cure for cardiomyopathy. However, you can manage the state and slow progress. Those who choose a healthy lifestyle and undergo treatment can enjoy a high quality of life with cardiomyopathy.
A message from the Heartscope Specialist Group
Cardiomyopathy is a heart muscle disease of various types. It can be inherited or occur due to underlying conditions like coronary artery disease. Although there is no cure for cardiomyopathy, with the guidance of a cardiologist and support from the Heartscope Specialist Group, you can effectively manage your symptoms. Treatment options for managing or slowing cardiomyopathy include medications, lifestyle adjustments, or surgical interventions. By actively managing cardiomyopathy, individuals undergoing treatment can enjoy a high quality of life.