What is cardiomyopathy?
Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that makes it harder for your heart to pump blood to the rest of your body. Cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure.
Types of cardiomyopathy
- Dilated cardiomyopathy. In this type of cardiomyopathy, your heart’s main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, dilates (expands) and does not pump blood out of the heart effectively. Although this typically affects people of all ages, it occurs most often in middle-aged people and is more likely to affect men. The most common cause of coronary artery disease or heart attack.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This type involves an abnormal tightening of the heart muscle, especially affecting the muscles of the heart’s main pumping chamber (left ventricle). Thickened heart muscle makes it difficult for the heart to function properly.
- Restrictive cardiomyopathy. In this type, the heart muscle becomes firmer and less elastic, so it does not stretch and fills with blood between beats. This common cardiomyopathy can occur at any age, but it most often affects the elderly.
What are the symptoms of cardiomyopathy?
The symptoms of all types of cardiomyopathy are the same. In all cases, the heart does not supply enough blood to the body’s tissues and organs. This can lead to symptoms such as:
- General weakness and fatigue
- shortness of breath.
- Mild headache and dizziness.
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Swelling of the feet, ankles, and legs.
Causes of cardiomyopathy
Often the cause of the cardiomyopathy is unknown. In some people, however, it’s the result of another condition (acquired) or passed on from a parent (inherited).
Contributing factors for acquired cardiomyopathy include:
- Long-term high blood pressure
- Heart tissue damage from a heart attack.
- Chronic rapid heart rate
- Heart valve problems
- Metabolic disorders, such as obesity, thyroid disease or diabetes.
- Pregnancy complications
- Drinking too much alcohol over many years.
- Use of cocaine, amphetamines or anabolic steroids.
- Iron buildup in your heart muscle (hemochromatosis).
Who is at risk for cardiomyopathy?
Cardiomyopathy affects people of all ages. The main risk factors include:
- Sudden cardiac arrest, or heart failure.
- Coronary heart disease
- Heart attack
- Chronic hypertension
According to research HIV treatments, and diet and lifestyle factors can also increase the risk of heart disease. HIV particularly increases the risk of heart failure and dilated cardiomyopathy. If you have HIV, talk to your doctor about routine tests to monitor your heart health. You should also follow a heart-healthy diet and exercise program.
Diagnosis of cardiomyopathy
Your doctor will do physical exams, take a personal and family medical history, and ask when your symptoms occur – for example if exercise brings your symptoms. If your doctor thinks you have cardiomyopathy, you will need to perform several tests to confirm the diagnosis.
- Chest x-ray The image of your heart shows whether it is stretched or not.
- It uses sound waves to create images of the heart, showing its magnitude and movement as it beats. This test will check your heart valves and help your doctor determine the cause of your symptoms.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG). In this non-invasive test, electrode patches are placed on the skin to measure the electrical impulses of the heart. An ECG shows alterations in the electrical activity of your heart, which can detect abnormal heart rhythms and injured areas.
- Treadmill stress test. Check your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing while walking on the treadmill. Your doctor may recommend this test to assess symptoms, determine your ability to exercise and find out if exercise causes abnormal heart rhythms.
- Cardiac catheterization. A thin tube (catheter) is inserted into the groin and passed into the heart through blood vessels. Doctors may take a small sample (biopsy) of your heart for testing in the laboratory. You can measure the pressure in your heart to see how energetically your heart pumps blood through your heart.
- Cardiac magnetic resonance. This test uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create images of your heart. Cardiac MRI can be used in addition to echocardiography, especially if the images from your echocardiogram do not help make a diagnosis.
- Cardiac computed tomography. You lie on the table inside the doughnut-shaped machine. An x-ray tube inside the machine rotates around your body and collects images of your heart and chest to assess the size and function of the heart and heart valves.
- Genetic testing or screening. Cardiomyopathy is inherited. Talk about genetic testing with your doctor. He or she may recommend a family test or genetic test for your first degree relatives: parents, siblings, and children.
What is the treatment for cardiomyopathy?
Treatment varies depending on how damaged your heart is due to cardiomyopathy and the resulting symptoms.
Some people may not require treatment until symptoms appear. Others who are beginning to struggle with breathlessness or chest pain may need to make some lifestyle adjustments or take medications.
You can’t reverse or cure cardiomyopathy, but you can control it with some of the following options:
- Heart-healthy lifestyle changes.
- Medications, including those used to treat high blood pressure, prevent water retention, keep the heart beating with a normal rhythm, prevent blood clots, and reduce inflammation.
- Surgically implanted devices, like pacemakers and defibrillators.
- Heart transplant.
The goal of treatment is to help your heart be as efficient as possible and to prevent further damage and loss of function.
Medications for cardiomyopathy
Your doctor may prescribe medications to improve your heart’s pumping ability, improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, lower your heart rate, remove excess fluid from your body, or prevent blood clots.
Be sure to discuss side effects with your doctor before taking these medications.
A variety of devices can be placed on the heart to improve its performance and relieve symptoms:
- Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). This device monitors your heart rhythm and delivers electric shocks when necessary to control abnormal heart rhythms. An ICD does not treat cardiomyopathy, but it detects and monitors abnormal rhythms, which is a serious complication of the condition.
- Ventricular assist device (VAD). It helps blood circulation through your heart. VAD is generally considered after minimally invasive procedures are unsuccessful. It can be used as a long-term treatment or as a short-term treatment while you wait for a heart transplant.
- This small device, which is placed under the skin of the chest or abdomen, uses electrical impulses to control the arrhythmia.
Other methods used to treat cardiomyopathy or arrhythmia:
- Septal ablation. A small portion of the thickened heart muscle is destroyed by injecting alcohol through a long, thin tube (catheter) into the artery that supplies blood to that area.
- Radio-frequency To treat abnormal heart rhythms, doctors guide long, flexible tubes (catheters) into the heart through blood vessels. Electrodes on the tips of the catheter transmit energy that damages a small area of abnormal heart tissue, causing an abnormal heart rhythm.
Lifestyle and home remedies for cardiomyopathy
These lifestyle changes can help you manage cardiomyopathy:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a modified diet
- Limiting caffeine intake
- Getting enough sleep
- Managing stress
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting alcohol intake