What is cardiomyopathy?
If you have cardiomyopathy, your heart muscle will be abnormally enlarged, thickened or stiff. This means that the heart muscle is less able to pump blood efficiently, which can lead to heart failure or blood in the lungs.
Types of cardiomyopathy
There are many different types of cardiomyopathy, including:
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) A genetic condition where the muscle wall of your heart becomes stiff. In severe cases, this can restrict blood flow from the heart.
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) DCM affects the heart's ability to pump blood around the body due to the heart muscle stretching and getting thin. People with DCM have a higher risk of heart failure, but it's usually possible to live a normal life with the right treatment.
Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (AVRC) ARVC is a rare genetic condition where fatty deposits build up in the heart to repair muscle cell damage. This usually causes problems with heart rhythm and can lead to heart failure.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy In this type of cardiomyopathy, your heart's left ventricle changes shape and gets bigger, weakening the heart muscle. It's also called broken heart syndrome or acute stress-induced cardiomyopathy as it's often the result of severe emotional or physical distress, like grief, domestic abuse or surgery.
Restrictive cardiomyopathy This is a rare form of cardiomyopathy that most often affects children. It causes the walls of the heart's chambers to stiffen and stops them from relaxing properly after contracting. This reduces the blood flow from the heart, which can cause breathlessness, tiredness and problems with heart rhythm.
The symptoms you experience will depend on the type of cardiomyopathy you have and how severe it is. Some people have no symptoms at all and can continue with normal life without treatment.
Symptoms you may experience include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Ankle swelling
- Heart rhythm problems
What causes cardiomyopathy?
Cardiomyopathy is usually inherited, although some types can be caused by other factors, including:
- An underlying medical condition
- An unhealthy lifestyle
- Inflammation of the heart muscle caused by a viral infection
As cardiomyopathy is often inherited, it may be recommended that you have a genetic screening test if a close relative has the condition. This is a good idea as specialists can monitor your health and give early assessment, diagnosis, treatment and support.
Other tests that can be used to diagnose cardiomyopathy include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) – To check your heart's rhythm and activity
- Echocardiogram – A type of ultrasound scan that looks at the heart and surrounding blood vessels
- MRI scan – A scan that makes detailed images of the body using magnetic fields and radio waves
- Heart rhythm monitor
- Exercise tests
Cardiomyopathy can't usually be cured, but many effective treatments help to control symptoms. Not everyone needs treatment – if you have a mild case of cardiomyopathy it might be possible to control the condition by making some changes to your lifestyle.
Making lifestyle changes Everyone with cardiomyopathy can benefit from making some of the following changes:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Do regular but gentle exercise
- Don't smoke
- Reduce your alcohol consumption
- Understand your stress triggers and try to reduce stress in your life
- Try to get plenty of sleep at regular times
- Check your body mass index (BMI) and lose weight if you need to
Medication There is a range of medication to treat cardiomyopathy:
- Beta-blockers – To treat an irregular heartbeat or heart failure
- Diuretics – To remove excess fluid from your body if it's causing swelling
- Anticoagulants – To prevent blood clots
- Medicines to treat heart failure – Like angiotensin-2 receptor blockers (ARBs)
- Treatments for high blood pressure – Like ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers
- Cardioversion – A treatment that sends electric signals to your heart to regulate an abnormal heart rhythm
- Ablation – A treatment that corrects or controls some types of abnormal heart rhythms using heat or cold
- Pacemakers or implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) – Small devices fitted inside the body to help treat or regulate abnormal heart rhythms
- Heart surgery or heart transplant – In rare cases, doctors may recommend surgery if other kinds of treatment haven't been successful
- Reviewed by:
Dr Rhianna McClymont
Lead GP at Livi
- Last updated: