Cardiomyopathy: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Cardiomyopathy refers to conditions that affect the myocardium (heart muscle). Cardiomyopathy can make your heart stiffen, enlarged or thickened and can cause scar tissue. As a result, your heart can’t pump blood effectively to the rest of your body.

In time, your heart can weaken and cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure. Treatment can help. Some people with cardiomyopathy eventually need a heart transplant.


What are the types of cardiomyopathy?

The most common types of cardiomyopathy are:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy: Your heart’s blood-pumping chambers enlarge (dilate).
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: Your heart muscle thickens.
  • Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD): Disease in your heart muscle causes irregular heart rhythms.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy: Your heart muscle scars, stiffens or both.
  • Transthyretin amyloid cardiomyopathy (ATTR-CM): Abnormal protein buildup (ATTR amyloidosis) in your heart’s left ventricle (primary blood-pumping chamber).

Some cardiomyopathies don’t fit into these general categories. These conditions include:

  • Broken heart syndrome (stress-induced or takotsubo cardiomyopathy): Temporary heart enlargement.
  • Chemotherapy-induced cardiomyopathy: Heart damage related to cancer treatment.
  • Peripartum cardiomyopathy: Congestive heart failure that occurs during or after pregnancy.

How does cardiomyopathy affect your body?

As cardiomyopathy worsens, you may develop other heart problems, such as:

  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).
  • Heart failure.
  • Heart valve problems, including heart valve disease.

How does cardiomyopathy affect children and teenagers?

Pediatric cardiomyopathy can affect children and teenagers of any gender, race or age. It is more likely to develop in infants than in older children.

Children may inherit cardiomyopathy. More rarely, they may develop cardiomyopathy from a viral infection. About 75% of the time, healthcare providers don’t know what causes the condition.

Some children may have no cardiomyopathy symptoms until they experience sudden cardiac arrest. However, early detection and treatment can improve a child’s outcome.

Children with a cardiomyopathy diagnosis need routine care with a cardiologist (heart specialist). They will take daily medication. Depending on the cause, type and stage of cardiomyopathy, many children and teenagers can live with few lifestyle restrictions.

How common is cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy can affect anyone of any age or race. About 1 in 500 adults have cardiomyopathy.

Some types of cardiomyopathy are more likely in some people than in others. For example, dilated cardiomyopathy is more common in Black people. Dilated and arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy are more likely in males.

What causes cardiomyopathy?

Healthcare professionals may categorize cardiomyopathy based on the general cause. These two categories are:

  • Ischemic cardiomyopathy, caused by heart attacks or coronary artery disease (CAD).
  • Non-ischemic cardiomyopathy, types unrelated to CAD.

Sometimes, experts don't know the cause of cardiomyopathy (idiopathic). Some factors or conditions can increase your risk of cardiomyopathy, including:

  • Autoimmune diseases, such as connective tissue diseases.
  • Conditions that damage the heart, such as high cholesterol diseases, hemochromatosis or sarcoidosis.
  • Endocrine conditions, such as diabetes or thyroid disease.
  • Family history of heart failure, cardiomyopathy or sudden cardiac arrest.
  • Previous heart attacks.
  • Pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of cardiomyopathy?

Some people have no cardiomyopathy symptoms. As the disease progresses, others may experience:

  • Fatigue.
  • Heart palpitations (rapid heartbeat).
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea).
  • Swelling (edema) in the legs, calves or ankles.
  • Syncope (fainting).

What tests might I have to diagnose cardiomyopathy?

If your healthcare provider suspects you have a heart condition, you will see a cardiologist (heart specialist). A cardiologist performs a full assessment that may include a range of diagnostic tests. You may have:

  • Ambulatory monitoring uses devices that track your heart rhythm.
  • Cardiac CT uses X-rays to make a video of your blood vessels and heart.
  • Cardiac MRI uses radio waves and magnets to create images of your heart.
  • Echocardiogram uses sound waves to create an image of your blood flow and heartbeat.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) records your heart’s electrical activity.
  • Exercise stress test raises your heart rate in a controlled way to see how your heart responds.
  • Cardiac catheterization uses a catheter (thin tube inserted through a blood vessel) to measure your heart’s blood flow and pressure.
  • Myocardial biopsy studies a small sample of your heart muscle tissue to look for cell changes.

How is cardiomyopathy treated?

Cardiomyopathy treatment focuses on controlling your symptoms. Treatment also slows the disease’s progression. You will have regular checkups to keep an eye on your heart’s health.

Your healthcare provider may recommend:

  • Medications: Heart medications can improve your blood flow, control symptoms or treat underlying conditions. You may take blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin®), beta blockers such as propranolol (Inderal®) or medications to lower cholesterol.
  • Devices to correct arrhythmias: Pacemakers or implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) treat irregular heart rhythms. These devices monitor your heartbeat. They send electrical impulses to your heart when an arrhythmia starts.
  • Devices to improve blood flow: Some devices help your heart pump blood more efficiently. Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) devices control the contractions between the left and right sides of the heart. A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) helps your heart pump blood.
  • Surgery: If you have severe symptoms or underlying heart conditions, your provider may recommend heart surgery. Providers usually only recommend open-heart surgery or a heart transplant when all other treatments have failed to bring relief.

How can I take care of myself with cardiomyopathy?

Lifestyle choices can affect how quickly cardiomyopathy progresses. To manage symptoms and increase your heart health, your provider may recommend:

  • Achieving and maintaining an ideal weight for your height and age.
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet, including reducing your sodium intake.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Limiting alcohol intake.
  • Managing and reducing stress.
  • Quitting smoking.

Is there a cure for cardiomyopathy?

There is no cure for cardiomyopathy. However, you can control the condition or slow its progression. People who make healthy lifestyle choices and seek medical treatment can live a high quality of life with cardiomyopathy.

How can I reduce my risk of cardiomyopathy?

There is no way to prevent congenital (inherited) types of cardiomyopathy. You can take steps to reduce your risk of conditions that could lead to cardiomyopathy. Some of these steps include:

  • Controlling your blood pressure.
  • Keeping your cholesterol within healthy ranges.
  • Managing underlying conditions such as sleep apnea or diabetes.
  • Scheduling regular checkups with a healthcare provider.
  • Taking all medications as prescribed.

What is the outlook for people with cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is a serious condition. Without treatment, it can be life-threatening. Cardiomyopathy is also a progressive condition, meaning it usually worsens over time.

Cardiomyopathy treatment can improve your outlook. If you have cardiomyopathy, seek treatment from a cardiologist (heart specialist). Medication, surgery or other treatments can increase your quality of life and help you live longer.

What else should I ask my healthcare provider?

You may also want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • What is the most likely cause of cardiomyopathy?
  • What treatments do you recommend?
  • Are there any side effects or risks associated with these treatments?
  • What lifestyle changes should I make to improve my heart health?
Dr Rohit Bhaskar, Physio
Dr Rohit Bhaskar, Physio Hey, I am founder of Bhaskar Health and completed my Graduation in Physiotherapy from Uttar Pradesh University of Medical Sciences. My clinical interests are in Chest Physiotherapy, stroke rehab, parkinson’s and head injury rehab.

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