Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) makes it difficult for your heart to pump blood normally due to a thickening and enlargement of the heart muscle. This can block the ventricles in the lower heart, leading to complications if left untreated.

Being diagnosed with a heart condition like HCM undoubtedly brings up many questions, including those involving your longevity.

Read on to learn key facts about HCM’s impact on your life expectancy that you may consider discussing further with your doctor.

Unlike acquired heart problems, people with HCM are born with it, and it runs in families. Your risk of developing this condition may be greater if you have a parent or sibling with HCM.

In fact, unlike other types of cardiomyopathies, it’s thought that HCM is attributed to abnormal genes that may be inherited.

About 1 in 500 people, or 0.2% of the population, has HCM. While it can occur at any age, it’s most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged adults. HCM is considered relatively common, but serious.

Some of the complications of HCM may include:

  • Irregular heart rate (arrhythmia): This develops when there are problems with electrical signals in your heart, making it beat too fast or too slow. HCM tends to make your heart beat abnormally fast.
  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib): A common type of arrhythmia seen in HCM, AFib can also cause heart palpitations, chest pain, and shortness of breath. AFib increases your risk of developing a stroke.
  • Blood flow obstruction: With HCM, your blood may not pump out of the heart as it ought to, which can leak back into the left chamber.
  • Blood clots and stroke: When your heart can’t pump blood normally, you may be at an increased risk of blood clots. Sometimes these clots can travel to the brain and cause a stroke.
  • Heart valve diseases: Over time, the inflammation caused by HCM may lead to damage in your heart valve tissues. Some people may also develop an infection of the heart valves called endocarditis.
  • Cardiac arrest: While considered a rare complication of HCM, cardiac arrest occurs when your heart suddenly stops beating without warning.
  • Heart failure: This occurs when your heart can no longer pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.
  • Cardiogenic shock: With this life threatening condition, your heart can no longer pump blood and deliver important nutrients or oxygen to major organs in your body. These include your brain, lungs, and kidneys.

While HCM increases the risk of numerous heart-related complications, most people with this condition are thought to achieve a normal life expectancy.

Findings from one 2022 study support this theory, where researchers reported that most people with HCM who passed away died from non-HCM-related causes, such as cancers.

Since HCM tends to run in families, your own parents’ or siblings’ experiences with the condition can provide clues into your own. While most people can live normal lives with treatment, a small number may experience heart failure, cardiac arrest, or other complications.

Thus, if you have a family member with HCM who experienced sudden death from a heart complication, it’s important to have your doctor monitor you carefully for signs of similar issues.

Medications are central to HCM treatment. They can help reduce your risk of complications while also improving your symptoms. Medication options may include:

  • beta-blockers, which may reduce blood pressure and help normalize your heart rhythm
  • calcium channel blockers, which may also lower your blood pressure
  • cardiac myosin inhibitors, which can improve contractions in the heart
  • diuretics to help decrease fluid accumulation and associated swelling

Clinical trials are continuing to test possible new HCM treatments.

In some cases, nonsurgical or surgical procedures may be recommended to help treat HCM.

These include:

  • cardiac device implants, such as pacemakers, to help regulate your heart rate
  • septal reduction therapy to decrease the size of thickened heart tissues
  • open heart surgery for significant obstruction in the lower heart chamber
  • heart transplant

In addition to following your treatment plan, there are other steps you can take to improve your overall heart health while reducing the risk of HCM-related complications.

Talk with a doctor about the following lifestyle changes:

  • adopting a heart-healthy diet
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • adopting an exercise program that’s safe for your heart (this could mean focusing on light to moderate-intensity exercises instead of vigorous ones)
  • stress management, such as regular relaxation techniques
  • healthy sleep hygiene
  • quitting smoking, if you smoke
  • limiting your alcohol intake

It’s also important to alert your doctor of any new symptoms, such as dizziness, fatigue, or swelling in your abdomen, legs, and feet. These could indicate that your HCM is worsening and requires additional treatment measures.

HCM is considered a chronic disease, which means that it’s long term and can worsen over time. However, early diagnosis and treatment may improve your overall outlook and extend your lifespan. In fact, most people with HCM have normal life expectancies.

Despite these facts, it’s important to do everything you can to protect your heart with HCM so that you can reduce your risk of potentially life threatening complications. This involves following your HCM treatment plan, adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle, and reporting any new symptoms to a doctor.