What Is Cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is not one disease, but many different diseases that affect the heart muscle. The symptoms and causes of these diseases can vary, but the heart muscle is significantly affected, typically becoming larger, thick, or rigid.1 Over time, the heart’s ability to function can be compromised, leading to heart failure.

Types of cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy can be inherited or acquired, and there are various types of cardiomyopathy. Many times, the exact cause isn’t known. The main kinds of cardiomyopathy include:2

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy: one of the ventricles, or pumping chambers, is enlarged; may or may not be inherited
  • Transthyretin amyloid cardiomyopathy (ATTR-CM): caused by the build up of amyloid fibrils, a type of protein; also may or may not be inherited
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: the heart muscle is thickened; often inherited
  • Arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy: irregular heartbeats/rhythms; usually inherited
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy: the heart muscle is stiff or scarred; the least common kind

There are also less-common kinds of cardiomyopathy, including stress-induced cardiomyopathy and unclassified cardiomyopathy.1

Who gets cardiomyopathy?

It can be hard to give accurate statistics about cardiomyopathy because many times, it goes undiagnosed. It’s estimated that as many as 1 in 500 adults have the condition.2 Anyone can develop cardiomyopathy; men, women, adults, and children. Dilated cardiomyopathy is more common in African Americans than whites, and more common in men than women.2 Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common inherited/genetic type of cardiomyopathy.2

What causes cardiomyopathy?

As previously mentioned, cardiomyopathy can be inherited or “acquired.” When cardiomyopathy is acquired, it means that a person isn’t born with it, but it occurs because of another medical condition, disease, or factor.3 Many times, the cause of cardiomyopathy is unknown.

Some potential causes of cardiomyopathy can include:2

  • Family history of cardiomyopathy, heart failure, or cardiac arrest
  • Connective tissue or types of autoimmune disease
  • Endocrine disorders like diabetes
  • Heart disease or heart attack
  • Pregnancy
  • Heart muscle infections
  • Chronic alcoholism or cocaine abuse
  • Diseases known to damage the heart like sarcoidosis

Some people have no symptoms of cardiomyopathy, while others do. Some people start showing symptoms or more severe symptoms as the condition gets worse. Some of the possible symptoms that are experienced include:2

Cardiomyopathy and heart failure

In dilated cardiomyopathy, which is also called congestive cardiomyopathy, the heart is weakened and stretched, and does not function effectively.4 If the heart does not pump effectively or strongly enough to meet the body’s needs, this is called heart failure.4 Muscles and tissues require oxygen, and if the heart is weakened to the point where the pumping of the heart isn’t strong enough, those muscles and tissues don’t get the oxygen they need.

Heart failure is a gradual process as the heart progressively gets weaker and weaker. It can occur on one or both sides of the heart. Although there are many different causes of heart failure, cardiomyopathy can be one of them. There are medications, lifestyle changes, devices, and surgical therapies that are used to help treat heart failure, but treatment for an individual depends on the severity of the disease and the underlying causes.

How is cardiomyopathy treated?

Treatment depends on the specific kind of cardiomyopathy a person has, how severe the symptoms are, and the age and overall health of an individual. The goals of treatment are to slow down the disease, minimize or control any symptoms, manage any diseases that have contributed to the cardiomyopathy, reduce complications, and prevent sudden death.2,3

Treatment can include lifestyle changes (healthy diet and weight, stress management, exercise, quitting smoking), medications, nonsurgical procedures, and surgery or implanted devices.3 What works for one person’s cardiomyopathy may not work for another person, so it’s important to keep in mind that treatment plans can look very different.

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