Cardiomyopathy is disease in which the heart muscle becomes weakened, stretched, or has another structural problem. It often occurs when the heart cannot pump or function well.
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Most people with cardiomyopathy have heart failure
There are many types of cardiomyopathy, with different causes:
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a condition in which the heart becomes weak and the chambers get large. As a result, the heart cannot pump enough blood out to the body. It can be caused by many medical problems.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a condition in which the heart muscle becomes thick. This makes it harder for blood to leave the heart. This type of cardiomyopathy is most often passed down through families.
Ischemic cardiomyopathy is caused by a narrowing of the arteries that supply the heart with blood. It makes the heart walls thin so they do not pump well.
Restrictive cardiomyopathy is a group of disorders. The heart chambers are unable to fill with blood because the heart muscle is stiff. The most common causes of this type of cardiomyopathy are amyloidosis and scarring of the heart from an unknown cause.
Peripartum cardiomyopathy occurs during pregnancy or in the first 5 months afterward.
When possible, the cause of cardiomyopathy is treated. Medicines and lifestyle changes are often needed to treat the symptoms of heart failure, angina, and abnormal heart rhythms.
Procedures or surgeries may also be used, including:
- A defibrillator that sends an electrical pulse to stop life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms
- A pacemaker that treats a slow heart rate or helps both sides of the heart beat at the same time
- Coronary artery bypass
(CABG) surgery or angioplasty
that may improve blood flow to the damaged or weakened heart muscle
- Heart transplant
that may be tried when all other treatments have failed
Recently, implantable artificial heart pumps have been developed. These may be used for very severe cases. However, not all patients need or are able to have this advanced treatment.
The outlook depends on many different things, including:
- Cause and type of cardiomyopathy
- How well the condition responds to treatment
- The severity of the heart problem
Heart failure is usually a long-term (chronic) illness. It may get worse over time. Some people develop severe heart failure. In this case, medicines, surgery, and other treatments may no longer help.
Patients with certain types of cardiomyopathy are at risk for dangerous heart rhythm problems.
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Hare JM. The dilated, restrictive, and infiltrative cardiomyopathies. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 68.
Wexler RK, Elton T, Pleister A, Feldman D. Cardiomyopathy: An overview. Am Fam Physician. 2009;79:778-784.
Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.