Cardiomyopathy is a medical condition where the heart and surrounding muscle become enlarged.
A group of diseases that affect the heart muscle (the myocardium), cardiomyopathy is associated with abnormal muscle function or rhythms, and may also refer to abnormal thickening or dilation of the heart’s ventricles (lower chambers).
Many cardiomyopathies are influenced heavily by genetics, and some can actually lead to sudden death or heart failure-related disability.
Cardiomyopathies all reflect a defect in the mechanics of the heart muscle or in its electrical system responsible for electrical rhythms that keep your heart beating. Usually there is thickening of the ventricles (hypertrophy) or an abnormal enlargement (dilatation). These changes result in difficulty pumping blood most effectively throughout the body and can lead to heart failure.
Traditionally, cardiomyopathies are grouped into three main categories, based on what is observed in and around the heart muscle:
More recently, experts began to categorize cardiomyopathies differently, according to genetic and non-genetic causes:
Primary cardiomyopathies, in which the disease mostly involves the heart muscle:
Secondary cardiomyopathies, in which the disease involves many different organs, including the heart. Examples of secondary cardiomyopathies include those caused by diabetes and chronic thyroid disorders.
Many patients have no symptoms at first. Some individuals may experience a sudden worsening of symptoms while others may see a worsening of symptoms develop slowly overtime. As cardiomyopathy progresses, symptoms of heart failure may become prevalent and can include:
Sudden cardiac death--as the first sign of inherited cardiomyopathy in young athletes--has led to an increased awareness of this medical condition.
In many cases, the cause of a cardiomyopathy is unknown. In other cases, your doctor may be able to find a possible contributing factor to this condition. Other related causes of cardiomyopathy may include:
In order to first diagnose cardiomyopathy, your doctor will likely begin with a complete medical history and assessment of your symptoms. If cardiomyopathy is suspected, your doctor may order a battery of diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include:
Treatment of cardiomyopathy may not be necessary if there are no symptoms present. The goal of treatment is to control and suppress the symptoms. Treatment will be dependent upon the type of cardiomyopathy and the severity of symptoms. Your next steps might also include:
In some cases, it may be possible to manage cardiomyopathy by taking better care of your heart and muscles, and by making heart-healthy changes:
In many cases, cardiomyopathy cannot be prevented. It is important to make your healthcare practitioner aware of your medical and family history in order to manage any underlying conditions that may contribute to the onset of cardiomyopathy.
If you have been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, it is essential to remain under a doctor’s care. If you are experiencing any new or worrisome symptoms, report them immediately. New symptoms may be an indication that your condition is worsening.
Cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure over time. If you suspect you may have cardiomyopathy, contact your doctor immediately.
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