Cardiomyopathy is a chronic, progressive disease whose medical symptoms tend to vary with the stage of the illness. Some patients may have a known heart enlargement for years before any symptoms arise. In serious cases, the progression of symptoms may occur suddenly, with resulting heart failure occurring rapidly.
Breathlessness and Fatigue
The most common symptoms associated with cardiomyopathy are breathlessness and fatigue with exertion or exercise. The feeling of not being able to catch your breath can occur with common activities like climbing stairs or walking while carrying packages. Extreme fatigue often results while performing normal activities. Orthopnea, or the inability to breathe comfortably when lying on the back, is also a common symptom associated with cardiomyopathy.
Fainting, known medically as syncopal episodes, may be preceded by lightheadedness or dizziness. A syncopal episode occurs when decreased blood flow to the brain triggers a loss of consciousness. Syncopal episodes may also be caused by arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, which prevent adequate amounts of blood and oxygen from reaching the brain.
Arryhythmias and Edema
Tachycardia, an arrhythmia in which the heart beats faster than normal, is a common medical symptom of cardiomyopathy. As the heart pumps less effectively, it increases its rate to meet the demand of the other organs and tissues in the body. This rapid beating does not allow the heart to empty its contents fully, so fluid backs up in different areas of the body and can lead to edema â€” the swelling of tissues or organs with fluid. Edema can occur anywhere but is most obvious in the ankles and feet.
Cyanosis, a bluish discoloration of the skin, is a sign that oxygen is lacking in the blood. Most patients will already have significant shortness of breath upon exertion before visible signs of cyanosis appear. In its earliest stages, cyanosis is detected in the nail beds, lips or nose. While cyanosis may be linked to a failing heart, it may also arise from other medical conditions.
A List of Symptoms for Cardiomyopathy
This list summarizes the typical symptoms of cardiomyopathy:
- temporary loss of consciousness
- irregular heartbeat, palpitations
- discoloration of the skin
- chest pain.
American Heart Association (updated 2005). Heart disease and stroke statisticsâ€”2005 update.