Cardiomyopathy is a progressive disease of the myocardium, or heart muscle. In most cases, the heart muscle weakens and is unable to pump blood to the rest of the body as well as it should. There are many different types of cardiomyopathy caused by a range of factors, from coronary heart disease to certain drugs. These can all lead to an irregular heartbeat, heart failure, a heart valve problem, or other complications.
Medical treatment and follow-up care are important. They can help prevent heart failure or other complications.
Cardiomyopathy generally has four types.
The most common form, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), occurs when your heart muscle is too weak to pump blood efficiently. The muscles stretch and become thinner. This allows the chambers of your heart to expand.
This is also known as enlarged heart. You can inherit it, or it can be due to coronary artery disease.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is believed to be genetic. It occurs when your heart walls thicken and prevent blood from flowing through your heart. It’s a fairly common type of cardiomyopathy.
Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia (ARVD)
Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD) is a very rare form of cardiomyopathy, but it’s the leading cause of sudden death in young athletes. In this type of genetic cardiomyopathy, fat and extra fibrous tissue replace the muscle of the right ventricle. This causes abnormal heart rhythms.
Restrictive cardiomyopathy is the least common form. It occurs when the ventricles stiffen and can’t relax enough to fill up with blood. Scarring of the heart, which frequently occurs after a heart transplant, may be a cause. It can also occur as a result of heart disease.
Most of the following types of cardiomyopathy belong to one of the previous four classifications, but each has unique causes or complications.
Peripartum cardiomyopathy occurs during or after pregnancy. This rare type occurs when the heart weakens within five months of delivery or within the final month of pregnancy. When it occurs after delivery, it’s sometimes called postpartum cardiomyopathy. This is a form of dilated cardiomyopathy, and it’s a life-threatening condition. There’s no cause.
Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is due to drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time, which can weaken your heart so it can no longer pump blood efficiently. Your heart then becomes enlarged. This is a form of dilated cardiomyopathy.
Ischemic cardiomyopathy occurs when your heart can no longer pump blood to the rest of your body due to coronary artery disease. Blood vessels to the heart muscle narrow and become blocked. This deprives the heart muscle of oxygen. Ischemic cardiomyopathy is a common cause of heart failure. Alternatively, non-ischemic cardiomyopathy is any form that isn’t related to coronary artery disease.
Noncompaction cardiomyopathy, also called spongiform cardiomyopathy, is a rare disease present at birth. It results from abnormal development of the heart muscle in the womb. Diagnosis may occur at any stage of life.
When cardiomyopathy affects a child, it’s called pediatric cardiomyopathy. If you have idiopathic cardiomyopathy, it means there’s no known cause.
Cardiomyopathy can affect people of all ages. Major risk factors include the following:
- a family history of cardiomyopathy, sudden cardiac arrest, or heart failure
- coronary heart disease
- severe obesity
- heart attack
- long-term high blood pressure
According to research, HIV, HIV treatments, and dietary and lifestyle factors can also increase your risk of cardiomyopathy. HIV can increase your risk of heart failure and dilated cardiomyopathy, in particular. If you have HIV, talk to your doctor about regular tests to check the health of your heart. You should also follow a heart-healthy diet and exercise program.
The symptoms of all types of cardiomyopathy tend to be similar. In all cases, the heart can’t adequately pump blood to the tissues and organs of the body. It can result in symptoms such as:
- general weakness and fatigue
- shortness of breath, particularly during exertion or exercise
- lightheadedness and dizziness
- chest pain
- heart palpitations
- fainting attacks
- high blood pressure
- edema, or swelling, of your feet, ankles, and legs
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, which is considered a last resort
The goal of treatment is to help your heart be as efficient as possible and to prevent further damage and loss of function.
Cardiomyopathy can be life-threatening and can shorten your life expectancy if severe damage occurs early on. The disease is also progressive, which means it tends to get worse over time. Treatments can prolong your life. They can do this by slowing the decline of your heart’s condition or by providing technologies to help your heart do its job.
Those with cardiomyopathy should make several lifestyle adjustments to improve heart health. These may include:
- maintaining a healthy weight
- eating a modified diet
- limiting caffeine intake
- getting enough sleep
- managing stress
- quitting smoking
- getting support from your family, friends, and doctor
One of the biggest challenges is sticking with a regular exercise program. Exercise can be very tiring for someone with a damaged heart. However, exercise is extremely important for maintaining a healthy weight and prolonging heart function. It’s important to check with your doctor and engage in a regular exercise program that’s not too taxing but that gets you moving every day.
The type of exercise that’s best for you will depend on the type of cardiomyopathy you have. Your doctor will help you determine an appropriate exercise routine, and they’ll tell you the warning signs to watch out for while exercising.