What Is Cardiomyopathy?

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Cardiomyopathy describes any type of heart disease that harms the heart muscle. It makes the heart muscle larger, thicker, or more stiff than normal.

This condition makes it hard for your heart to keep a regular electrical rhythm and pump blood. The effect weakens your heart. It can cause irregular heartbeats called arrhythmias and heart valve problems. It can also lead to heart failure.

These physical changes can decrease the amount of blood that your heart pumps to your body. Without enough blood, your organs and body systems can't function in a normal way.

This article explains cardiomyopathy symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

Types of heart diseases: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and dilated cardiomyopathy. Healthy heart and heart with pathology.

ttsz / Getty Images

Types of Cardiomyopathy

The cardiomyopathy disorders cause changes that weaken or alter the function of the heart muscle. However, the exact changes that occur vary by disease type. The type of disease you have also affects your treatment and outlook.

Common types of cardiomyopathy include:

Cardiomyopathy impacts all genders and people of all ages, including children. Family history, age, race, and other unique factors can affect the type of disease you get.

Symptoms

Cardiomyopathy impacts people differently. Some may never have signs of sickness. Others may have symptoms that grow worse as the disease causes more damage.

Signs of illness can be the same across different types of this disease. Common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath, especially after physical exertion
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling of the arms and legs
  • Heart palpitations

Seeking Medical Care

Consult your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms. Even if you don't have heart disease, they may be signs of a problem.

Causes

This disease can be described as primary or secondary. Primary cardiomyopathy involves causes that only affect the heart muscle. Secondary cardiomyopathy results from a condition that also affects other parts of your body.

Primary cardiomyopathy can be caused by genetic disorders, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or by disorders acquired during life, such as peripartum cardiomyopathy.

Common causes of secondary cardiomyopathy include:

You can also have this disease without a known cause.

Diagnosing Cardiomyopathy

A cardiomyopathy diagnosis typically occurs after you report symptoms to your healthcare provider. Your symptoms and family history help define the types of tests you need.

Some common tests used to diagnose this disease include:

Some types of heart disease are linked to genetics. If a close family member has this illness, genetic testing may be advised.

If you have an inherited form of cardiomyopathy, genetic tests might help you assess your risk of transmitting this disease to your children. Genetic testing can also help detect inherited forms of cardiomyopathy before they produce signs of sickness.

Treatment

Treatment goals for people with cardiomyopathy include slowing disease progression, managing symptoms, and avoiding potential complications. Potential treatments vary considerably depending on which type of cardiomyopathy you have, and the severity of your condition.

Treating Primary Cardiomyopathy

Treatment for primary cardiomyopathy typically involves starting and keeping a healthy way of life. This includes the following steps:

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Boosting physical activity
  • Reducing stress
  • Limiting or avoiding alcohol
  • Quitting smoking

Medicine may be prescribed to control signs of sickness. The most common types of medicines used include:

Some patients with cardiomyopathy benefit from a pacemaker. This surgically implanted device monitors your heart's rhythm. When your heart beats too slow or too fast, a pacemaker delivers an electrical signal to restore a regular beat.

Based on your disease, you may need heart surgery to correct the damage. Treatment for the most advanced stages of this illness may require a heart transplant.

Treating Secondary Cardiomyopathy

If you have secondary cardiomyopathy, treatment for your heart-related symptoms involves the same therapies used for primary cardiomyopathy. Secondary cardiomyopathy may be treated with lifestyle changes, medication, an implanted medical device, and/or heart surgery.

However, treating secondary cardiomyopathy also involves addressing the underlying condition that caused your heart disease. This is necessary to prevent further heart damage.

Treatment for secondary cardiomyopathy varies widely depending on the underlying condition. For example, in cases of alcoholic cardiomyopathy, treatment may include the cessation of all alcohol consumption.

Prognosis

There is no cure for cardiomyopathy. However, a supervised treatment plan can help slow down the disease. The right treatment can also improve your quality of life.

Your prognosis can improve if you find the illness early. Other factors such as your age, overall health, and type of disease also affect your outlook.

Without treatment, cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure. This is a serious condition that can be life-threatening.

Assess Your Risk

Knowing your disease risk can improve your chances of finding it, even without symptoms. Beginning treatment early may be most effective.

Coping With Cardiomyopathy

Living with cardiomyopathy means dealing with both physical and emotional changes. Feeling afraid or depressed about your illness is normal. It's common to feel lonely or angry if your sickness limits your lifestyle.

Doing your best to take care of your physical health (e.g., following a healthy diet, exercising, getting enough sleep) can also aid your mental and emotional health. Living a healthy lifestyle can help you maintain a sense of normalcy and routine, which makes the coping process easier.

Realize that your feelings can affect your physical state. Getting support from others in online and in-person support groups and/or sharing your concerns with family and friends can help ease the emotional burden.

Don't be afraid to discuss your feelings with your healthcare provider. They may advise you to get professional help.

Summary

Cardiomyopathy involves a group of progressive conditions that damage your heart muscle. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, and an irregular heartbeat.

Knowing your disease risk can help you identify the condition early and get treatment when it can be most effective. Treatment varies based on the cause and symptoms of your condition. It involves lifestyle changes, medicine, and/or surgery. A surgically implanted device, surgery, and in extreme cases, a heart transplant, may also be necessary. The goal is to slow the disease and improve signs of sickness.

A Word From Verywell

You can do a few things to improve your chances of living a normal life with cardiomyopathy. Get an annual medical examination and report any symptoms to your medical provider. An early diagnosis and proper treatment can help prevent heart damage before the disease worsens.

Even if you don't have symptoms, you should know your risk of having this condition. Discuss genetic testing with your healthcare provider if you have a close family member who has this disease.

Living with cardiomyopathy involves managing both the physical and emotional aspects of this condition. Seek support from your healthcare provider, family and friends, and others who can help.

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10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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