What is cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle. The heart muscle gets weak, big and thick, or stiff. This can weaken the heart and make it hard for the heart to pump blood.

There are 3 main types of cardiomyopathy:

  • The heart muscle weakens and can’t pump enough blood to the body. Because the heart can’t pump as well, it doesn’t empty and the heart fills with blood. The extra blood causes the heart muscle to stretch, getting bigger over time.
  • The heart muscle cells get bigger. This makes the walls of the heart muscle thick, and this makes it hard for the heart to pump well.
  • The heart muscle gets very stiff. The stiffness makes it hard for the heart to fill with blood and pump properly.

What is the cause?

The heart muscle may be weakened by many things, such as:

  • Heart attacks
  • Coronary artery disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Long-term (chronic) illness, such as diabetes or thyroid disease
  • A genetic problem inherited from your parents
  • Drug use, such as cocaine
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Infection, especially by a virus
  • Some cancer treatments

Often what causes the heart to get bigger and weaker is not known.

What are the symptoms?

Cardiomyopathy may not cause symptoms. If it does, symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain, especially after physical activity or heavy meals
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the legs or ankles
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting during physical activity
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat or a feeling like your heart is racing or fluttering

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Tests may include:

  • Chest X-ray
  • An ECG (also called an EKG or electrocardiogram), which measures and records your heartbeat. You may have an ECG while you are resting or while you exercise on a treadmill. You may also be asked to wear a small portable ECG monitor for a few days or sometimes a couple weeks.
  • An echocardiogram, which uses sound waves (ultrasound) to see how well your heart is pumping and can show areas of heart muscle that are thick
  • Angiogram, which is a series of X-rays taken after your healthcare provider injects a special dye into your blood vessels to show the walls of the arteries and any blockage

Your provider may suggest testing other members of your family if he or she thinks that you may have an inherited form of cardiomyopathy.

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on the type of cardiomyopathy you have and what caused it. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines to:

  • Lower your blood pressure and heart rate so that your heart does not have to work as hard.
  • Relax your blood vessels and lower your blood pressure to help your heart to pump more blood out to your body.
  • Help your body get rid of the extra fluid that can build up when your heart does not pump well.
  • Prevent blood clots that could block your arteries and cause a stroke.

Procedures that may be done to treat cardiomyopathy include:

  • Removal of a piece of heart muscle
  • Putting in a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to treat abnormal heart rhythms

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

  • Weigh yourself regularly and let your provider know if you suddenly gain weight.
  • Take care of your health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet and try to keep a healthy weight. If you smoke, try to quit. If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink. Learn ways to manage stress. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.

Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-06-18
Last reviewed: 2014-09-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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