Heart Disease Common Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy is defined as a weakening and enlargement of the heart muscle that usually happens in one of three forms:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy: The left ventricle becomes enlarged and its pumping ability weakens. This is the most common form of cardiomyopathy, and it occurs most often in middle-aged people. A genetic component or alcohol abuse may be involved.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: The heart muscle thickens and stiffens, and the size of the pumping chamber shrinks. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can occur at any age, but if it appears during childhood, the symptoms may later become severe.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy: Often occurring in older people, restrictive cardiomyopathy is characterized by a rigid and inelastic heart muscle that cannot properly expand and fill with blood during the pumping cycle. This is the least common form of cardiomyopathy, and it often has no discernable cause.

An additional form, stress cardiomyopathy, can occur when a stressful event triggers a surge of hormones that temporarily enlarges a portion of the heart. Stress cardiomyopathy is also called apical ballooning syndrome or “broken heart syndrome,” and the symptoms can mimic those of a heart attack. Stress cardiomyopathy is rarely fatal and symptoms usually recede in about a week.

Causes and Symptoms

The direct cause of cardiomyopathy is often unknown, but it can sometimes result from valvular disease or coronary artery disease. The following factors can increase the risk of cardiomyopathy:

  • Certain cancer treatments
  • Excessive alcohol or cocaine use
  • Genetics
  • Long-term high blood pressure or heart rate
  • Metabolic disease.

Since all forms of cardiomyopathy make it difficult for the heart to pump blood, the untreated condition can lead to a worsening of symptoms. Other complications may include blood clots, heart murmurs or heart failure.

Doctors can diagnose cardiomyopathy with an echocardiogram, an electrocardiogram or a chest X-ray. A small biopsy of the heart muscle may also confirm the existence of cardiomyopathy. Some symptoms that can contribute to a diagnosis include:

  • Bloating of the abdomen, feet or ankles
  • Breathlessness, dizziness or fatigue
  • Fluttering, pounding, rapid or irregular heartbeats.

If you experience any combination of these symptoms, especially if cardiomyopathy runs in your family, you may want to make an appointment with a doctor. Call for emergency help if you have breathing problems or severe chest pain.

Treating Cardiomyopathy

Each form of cardiomyopathy involves a separate treatment plan. However, in most cases the treatment focuses on symptom management, reducing complications and keeping the condition from getting worse.

If you are diagnosed with hypertrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy, your doctor may prescribe angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) or ACE inhibitors to increase your heart’s pumping strength. Beta-blockers can slow the heartbeat in addition to strengthening contractions. Other drugs are designed to reduce body fluid levels, which can make it easier for the heart to pump blood.

If medications are ineffective, your doctor may suggest implanting a pacemaker. In the case of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, you and your doctor may also discuss a form of surgery to remove some of the thickened or overgrown portions of the heart muscle.

Restrictive cardiomyopathy treatment sometimes involves fewer medications and more lifestyle changes to control blood pressure, weight and sodium intake.


American Heart Association. (2010). Cardiomyopathy. Retrieved October 26, 2010, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/ChildrensHealth/Pediatric-Cardiomyopathies_UCM_312219_Article.jsp

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010). Cardiomyopathy basics. Retrieved October 27, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cardiomyopathy/DS00519

Medline Plus. (2010). Cardiomyopathy. Retrieved October 27, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001105.htm

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (2008). What is cardiomyopathy? Retrieved October 26, 2010, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/cm/cm_what.html