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What is Cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy represents a variety of conditions in which the heart muscle becomes damaged and can begin to falter. In some instances, the heart rhythm may also become disturbed and can lead to arrhythmias.

When a person has cardiomyopathy, their heart muscle usually becomes enlarged, thick or rigid. As it gets worse, the heart becomes weaker, has trouble maintaining its normal rhythm and is less able to pump blood through the body. This can lead to arrhythmias and even heart failure.

There are a wide variety of possible causes of cardiomyopathy, ranging from genetic predisposition to pregnancy complications to tissue damage from a heart attack.

Types of Cardiomyopathy

There are four primary types of cardiomyopathy. They are:

  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy: The most common type of cardiomyopathy is dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart’s main pumping chamber – the left ventricle – becomes enlarged and therefore less effective at pumping blood out of the heart and through your body. Middle-aged people – particularly men – are most likely to be affected by dilated cardiomyopathy.
  • Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy: The second type of cardiomyopathy is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, in which there is an abnormal thickening of the heart muscle, especially in the left ventricle. Again, this makes it harder for the heart to pump blood. Most people affected by this have a family history of the disease.
  • Restrictive Cardiomyopathy: Restrictive cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle becomes less rigid and less elastic so that it doesn’t properly expand and fill with blood. This is typically more common in older patients.
  • Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia: Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia is a rare type of cardiomyopathy in which the muscle tissue in the right ventricle dies and is replaced with scar tissue. This can lead to arrhythmias; symptoms include heart palpitations and fainting after exertion.

Diagnosing Cardiomyopathy

  • Blood Test: Blood tests give your doctor information about your heart and help rule out other conditions. Crozer Health ’s full-service hospital laboratories offer the most up-to-date services and technologies, including blood specimen collection and testing.
  • Chest X-ray: This common test can identify a number of internal issues that can contribute to or be an indicator of cardiomyopathy, including calcium deposits, fluid in your lungs, aortic aneurysms or other blood vessel problems.
  • Echocardiogram: This noninvasive test uses sound waves to evaluate the motion of the heart's chambers and valves, and determine how well the heart is pumping.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test records the electrical activity of the heart, shows abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias) and can sometimes detect heart muscle damage.
  • Heart Monitor: A Holter monitor or insertable cardiac monitor can be used to monitor your heart rhythm over an extended time and identify abnormal heart rhythms.

Treating Cardiomyopathy

The good news is that cardiomyopathy can be treated. Treatment can include:

  • Medication
  • Surgically implanted devices
  • Heart transplant, in severe cases.

If you suspect that you might have cardiomyopathy, whether because of symptoms you’re experiencing or because you have a family history, you should schedule a visit to your doctor.

Your physician can use tests, ranging from a blood test to an electrocardiogram to a treadmill stress test, to determine whether you have an issue that requires treatment. They may suggest lifestyle behaviors such as quitting smoking and losing weight because those are factors that put extra strain on your heart.