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Disease of the heart muscle is called as cardiomyopathy. This disease manifests different causes and symptoms. Thus, each type of cardiomyopathy requires a different form of treatment.

What is Cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is a condition where the heart muscles become enlarged. These enlarged muscles turn thick and rigid. Thus, forming a scar tissue and affecting the pumping action of the heart. This causes the heart to become weak and develop abnormal electrical rhythm. The abnormality leads to arrhythmia and heart failure.

Types of Cardiomyopathy

There are basically three types of cardiomyopathy. These include:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy

In some cases, cardiomyopathy is classified as extrinsic and intrinsic cardiomyopathies. Extrinsic involves a cause that lies outside the myocardium, like ischemia. Intrinsic myopathy includes heart muscle weakness that does not have an external cause, like arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC).

Dilated cardiomyopathy

This is the most common type of cardiomyopathy. This condition affects the ventricles and atria. It usually occurs in people in the age group of 20 – 60 years. In this condition, the heart is enlarged, weakened and is unable to pump blood. It leads to symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, swelling of the abdomen, legs, feet, and ankles. Some of the causes of dilated cardiomyopathy include viral infections, high blood pressure, heart valve abnormalities, pregnancy and drinking excessive alcohol.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can strike at any age. It is one of the main causes of sudden cardiac arrest, especially in sportsmen. In this condition, the myocardium thickens without any known cause. The walls of the ventricle thicken and affect the flow of blood. This leads to obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

When this condition affects the mitral valve, it causes backward leakage of blood. The blood flow through the ventricle is not blocked and thus, called as non-obstructive cardiomyopathy. In most cases, the disease shows no signs or symptoms or causes disruption in life. Thus, unknown to the disease affecting their heart, these people continue with their physical activity and may one day suffer from sudden cardiac arrest.

Restrictive cardiomyopathy

Mostly a generic disease, it affects the ventricles. The heart ventricles become stiff due to formation of scar tissue. This causes problems during pumping action. As the ventricles cannot relax, the atria are filled with blood. Gradually, the blood flow is reduced and leads to arrhythmia or heart failure.

Causes of Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy is an idiopathic disease in most cases. In some cases, it is either ‘inherited’, that is, one is born with a heart disease or ‘acquired’, that is, one develops the heart condition due to another underlying disease, disorder or condition. Some of the causes of cardiomyopathy include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Metabolic disorders like diabetes, thyroid problems
  • Heart tissue damage
  • Heart valve abnormalities
  • Drinking excessive alcohol
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Complications during pregnancy
  • Toxins in the body like cobalt
  • Use of drugs like cocaine
  • Connective tissue disorders
  • Sarcoidosis, etc.

Symptoms of Cardiomyopathy

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The symptoms of cardiomyopathy are similar to many heart ailments. Some of these symptoms include:

Diagnosis of Cardiomyopathy

Diagnosis of cardiomyopathy involves taking a family history of the patient, physical examination and conducting certain tests. These tests involve a chest X-ray, an echocardiogram, electrocardiogram, coronary angiogram, and cardiac MRI.

Treatment for Cardiomyopathy

The treatment differs according to the condition that affects the heart. The medication given will depend on the type of cardiomyopathy. In case of dilated cardiomyopathy, medications given include Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, Beta blockers, diuretics, etc. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathies are treated with calcium channel blockers, beta blockers, etc.

Other than medications, there are various surgeries that involve placement of defibrillators, pacemakers, valve replacement, septal myectomy, etc. In severe cases, the patient may be recommended a heart transplant.

One needs to carry out major changes in their lifestyle after being diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. This requires one to quit smoking, eat a low-salt diet, carry out moderate exercises, lose excessive weight and reduce the amount of alcohol one drinks.

It is important to seek medical help, if they feel constantly tired, fatigued or suffer from shortness of breath and fainting spells. People with high blood pressure and a family history of heart diseases, should get themselves regularly examined by a physician. Many times, cardiomyopathies strike silently and prove to be fatal in a few cases.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: February 25, 2015