Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. Certain kinds can be passed down through the family (inherited).

As the disease progresses, it can cause the heart muscle to become weaker. Cardiomyopathy can result in heart failure or irregular heartbeats, known as arrhythmias, and some cases are asymptomatic.

It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of each type of cardiomyopathy, especially if you have a family history of heart issues. Understanding cardiomyopathies can also help you get prompt treatment.

Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most common form of cardiomyopathy. Up to one-third of people with the disease inherit it from their parents.

This form of cardiomyopathy typically occurs in adults under the age of 50. It affects the lower and upper chambers of the heart.

As the disease progresses, it can cause the heart muscle, often the muscle of the left lower chamber, to dilate, stretch, and become thinner. Thinner or thinning heart muscle can cause heart weakness or heart failure.

Some people have few to no symptoms, but others may experience them. Symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy, particularly heart failure, can include:

  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • swelling in the ankles, abdomen, legs, feet, and veins in the neck

Doctors may recommend lifestyle changes, like eating a balanced diet and getting exercise. They will also likely prescribe medications, such as drugs that lower blood pressure or slow your heart rate, to treat dilated cardiomyopathy.

In more serious cases, surgical and minimally invasive procedures can treat dilated cardiomyopathy. This includes a heart transplant or the insertion of a mechanical support device that helps the heart pump.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is most often caused by abnormal genes in the heart muscle. In addition to genetic testing, a diagnostic test, such as an echocardiogram or cardiac MRI, can help diagnose HCM.

HCM comes in obstructive and nonobstructive forms. The obstructive form of the disease is the most common type. It includes thickening heart walls that block or reduce blood flow from the heart to the body.

Nonobstructive HCM can cause a thickening of the heart muscle but doesn’t block blood flow out of the heart.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • chest pain, shortness of breath, or both (especially with exercise)
  • fatigue
  • arrhythmias
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • fainting
  • swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, or abdomen

Doctors often recommend lifestyle changes to slow the progression of HCM. Medication, surgery, or other therapies can also be considered.

Restrictive cardiomyopathy is rare, representing only about 5% of all cases of cardiomyopathy.

This form can cause the heart’s ventricles to become rigid from abnormal tissue, such as proteins, replacing healthy heart muscle. As a result, the heart’s ventricles can’t relax as they should and fill with blood, causing the upper chambers of the heart to become enlarged from high pressure.

Over time, restrictive cardiomyopathy can reduce blood flow in the heart. This can lead to complications like heart failure or arrhythmias.

Symptoms can include:

  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • inability to exercise
  • swelling of the legs and feet
  • weight gain
  • nausea, bloating, and poor appetite

Managing heart failure is one of the main focuses of restrictive cardiomyopathy treatment. Doctors often prescribe diuretics to reduce excess fluid and sodium in the body.

They may also recommend lifestyle changes, such as eating a balanced diet and getting exercise. Some types of restrictive CM can be further treated with other types of medications, such as beta-blockers or ACE inhibitors.

Another rare form of inherited cardiomyopathy is arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD).

It occurs when some of the muscle tissue in the right ventricle (lower right chamber) dies and is replaced with fatty tissue. This can then disrupt the heart’s electrical signals and cause arrhythmias.

Symptoms of ARVD include:

The disease typically affects teens or young adults at a rate of 2.7 in females compared to 1 in males. It can cause sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes.

Sometimes, an abnormal electrocardiogram is detected, prompting additional testing. A cardiac MRI is typically used to diagnose ARVD.

Condition management can include a combination of:

  • lifestyle changes
  • medication
  • catheter ablation
  • implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD)
  • heart transplant

ARVD treatment often focuses on preventing disease progression.

How common is familial cardiomyopathy?

Familial cardiomyopathy is another term for inherited cardiomyopathy. The prevalence of the condition depends on the type. Research suggests that worldwide, 1 in 500 people get hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, 1 in 250 people get dilated cardiomyopathy, and 1 in 5,000 people get arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy.

However, the researchers believe the numbers may be higher because not everyone reports their symptoms accurately, and sometimes the symptoms can be missed.

What are the signs of cardiomyopathy?

You may experience various symptoms depending on the type of cardiomyopathy you have. This includes heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, fatigue, weight gain, and swelling in the legs and abdomen.

What is life expectancy with cardiomyopathy?

Your outlook varies depending on the type of cardiomyopathy and the type of genetic mutation that’s causing it. That said, life expectancy tends to be poor. Restrictive cardiomyopathy has the worst life expectancy of all the types, with a 2-5-year survival rate

Many forms of cardiomyopathy are inherited. Being aware of the signs and symptoms can help you get an early diagnosis and treatment.

If heart problems run in your family, consider regular follow-ups with your physician to check for any changes or abnormalities.

Genetic testing can also help determine your risk level, although all culprit genes have not yet been fully identified.