What is Cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the myocardium or heart muscle. As the condition progresses, the heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick or rigid, making it hard for the heart to deliver blood to the body. This can lead to heart failure or irregular heartbeats called arrhythmias. The weakening of the heart can also cause other complications such as heart valve problems.

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath, especially with activity
  • Tiredness
  • Trouble breathing when you lie down
  • Swelling in your legs

Causes & Risk Factors

Heredity plays a strong role in cardiomyopathy, so if you have a family history of heart disease or if you are experiencing symptoms, make an appointment to speak with a Mercy primary care doctor or heart specialist. They can provide you a full range of expert and personalized care.

Types of Cardiomyopathy

There are different types of cardiomyopathy, which include:

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy - happens when the heart muscle enlarges and thickens without an obvious cause
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy - develops when the ventricles enlarge and weaken. The condition usually starts in the left ventricle and over time can affect the right ventricle.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy - develops when the ventricles become stiff and rigid, but the walls of the heart do not thicken. As a result, the ventricles do not relax and don’t fill with the normal blood volume.

How Is Cardiomyopathy Diagnosed?

In addition to blood tests and chest X-rays, your doctor may recommend various tests to diagnose cardiomyopathy, including:

  • Stress test – to study the heart while you exercise, usually on a treadmill
  • Cardiac catheterization – a flexible tube is threaded through a blood vessel to your heart. This allows your doctor to study the inside of your arteries, use dyes to see the pumping function of your heart or remove a piece of your heart muscle to be studied under a microscope.

How Is Cardiomyopathy Treated?

Treatment for cardiomyopathy mostly focuses on relieving symptoms, improving heart function and helping you live a longer, more comfortable life. This might include:

  • Medication - medicines to manage symptoms of heart failure or get rid of too much iron in the heart muscle
  • Pacemaker – a battery-powered device that sends weak electrical impulses to help the heart maintain a regular heartbeat
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) – uses electrical pulses to control abnormal heart rhythms, especially ones that can be life-threatening
  • Heart transplant  - this treatment may be an option if your condition is severe

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