What is cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is where the heart muscle is diseased and is unable to pump blood in enough volume around the body. It is a progressive disease where the heart gets weaker over time and it can affect any age group, from young to old.

The word cardiomyopathy comes from the ancient Greek words for heart ('cardio'), muscle ('myo') and disease ('pathy').

What causes cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy can be caused by congenital or inherited factors, and in some cases an infection or heart attack may cause the condition. Other factors may include thyroid dysfunction, substance abuse (alcohol and cocaine particularly), heavy metal poisoning and some cancer treatments. There are three types of cardiomyopathy - stress cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and dilated cardiomyopathy.

What is Stress Cardiomyopathy?

Affecting mainly older women, stress cardiomyopathy can be triggered by severe mental or physical stress, such as sudden illness, a death in the family or even an argument. It is sometimes referred to as 'broken heart syndrome'. Stress cardiomyopathy can seem like a heart attack (sudden chest pain, trouble breathing, fainting), but it isn't. Most patients will recover within a month or less. The condition can however lead to other heart problems.

What is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy?

This is where the heart muscle expands and thickens in size which affects the heart's ability to pump blood. It is often an inherited condition however it may also be caused by high blood pressure and or infiltrative processes such as amyloidosis.

What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy?

Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most common form of cardiomyopathy and is where the heart muscle weakens and stretches and a chamber in the heart expands in size (generally but not always the left ventricle). This in turn stops the heart from pumping blood as effectively as it should.

What are the symptoms of cardiomyopathy?

The following symptoms may indicate cardiomyopathy...

  • Sudden pain in the chest (stress cardiomyopathy)
  • Difficulty breathing, especially when exercising
  • Difficult breathing when lying down or sleeping
  • Chest pain when doing physical exercise or any difficulty doing physical exercise
  • Swollen feet/ankles/legs
  • Irregular heartbeat, either fast or skipping beats
  • Feeling faint or actually fainting

How is cardiomyopathy diagnosed?

The following tests are used to diagnose cardiomyopathy...

What treatments are available for cardiomyopathy?

With the exception of stress cardiomyopathy, which as explained above will clear on its own, treatments for the other two types of cardiomyopathy include...

  • Medication - to relieve any pain or where there is trouble breathing, or to control any arrhythmia of the heart
  • Surgery - either to implant an 'ICD' (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) which keeps the heart beating normally or to remove parts of the heart muscle