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. It can also be caused by long-term high blood pressure or aging. Diabetes or thyroid disease can also cause hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. There are other instances that the cause is unknown.
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, nonischemic 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
Always speak with your doctor before taking new medications. Some medications are completely off-limits to people with heart failure, including naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) and ibuprofen (Advil, Midol).
Some people with heart failure will need surgery, such as coronary bypass surgery. During this surgery, your surgeon will take a healthy piece of artery and attach it to the blocked coronary artery. This allows the blood to bypass the blocked, damaged artery and flow through the new one.
Your doctor may also suggest an angioplasty. In this procedure, a catheter with a small balloon attached is inserted into the blocked or narrowed artery. Once the catheter reaches the damaged artery, your surgeon inflates a balloon to open the artery. Your surgeon may need to place a permanent stent, or wire mesh tube, into the blocked or narrowed artery. A stent permanently holds your artery open and can help prevent further narrowing of the artery.
Other people with heart failure will need pacemakers to help control heart rhythms. These small devices are placed into the chest. They can slow your heart rate down when the heart is beating too quickly or increase heart rate if the heart is beating too slowly. Pacemakers are often used along with bypass surgery as well as medications.
Heart transplants are used in the final stages of heart failure, when all other treatments have failed. During a transplant, your surgeon removes all or part of your heart and replaces it with a healthy heart from a donor.
A healthy lifestyle can help treat heart failure and prevent the condition from developing in the first place. Losing weight and exercising regularly can significantly decrease your risk of heart failure. Reducing the amount of salt in your diet can also lower your risk.
reducing alcohol intake
avoiding foods high in fat
getting an adequate amount of sleep
What are the complications of heart failure?
Untreated heart failure can eventually lead to congestive heart failure (CHF), a condition in which blood builds up in other areas of your body. In this potentially life-threatening condition, you may experience fluid retention in your limbs as well as in your organs, such as the liver and lungs.
A heart attack may also occur as a result of a complication related to heart failure.
Call 911 or your local emergency services right away if you have these symptoms:
crushing chest pain
discomfort in the chest, such as squeezing or tightness
discomfort in the upper body, including numbness or a coldness
rapid heart rate
What’s the long-term outlook for people with heart failure?
Heart failure is usually a long-term condition that requires ongoing treatment to prevent complications. When heart failure is left untreated, the heart can weaken so severely that it causes a life-threatening complication.
It’s important to recognize that heart failure can happen to anyone. You should take lifelong preventive measures to stay healthy. Always contact your doctor if you suddenly have any new and unexplained symptoms that may indicate a problem with your heart.
Because heart failure is most often a chronic condition, your symptoms will likely get worse over time. Medications and surgeries can help relieve your symptoms, but such treatments may not help if you have a severe case of heart failure. In some cases, heart failure can even be life-threatening.
Early treatment is key in preventing the most serious cases of heart failure. Call your doctor right away if you’re showing signs of heart failure or if you believe you have the condition.