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Cardiomyopathy is any disease of the heart muscle that causes the heart to lose its ability to pump blood effectively. In some instances, heart rhythm is disturbed and leads to arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). There may be multiple causes of cardiomyopathy, including viral infections. Sometimes, the exact cause of muscle disease is never found.

There are several types of cardiomyopathy:

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy involves thickening and enlargement of the heart muscle. The cause of this type of cardiomyopathy is usually unknown. It is often inherited.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy occurs when the ventricles (the bottom chambers of the heart) grow weaker and larger. About one-third of all cases are inherited. The remaining cases may be caused by viral infections, cocaine use, and heavy alcohol use.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy is characterized by stiffening of the ventricles. Conditions like amyloidosis and hemochromatosis may cause it as may some types of chemotherapy.
  • Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD) is a rare form of cardiomyopathy that occurs when the right ventricle dies and gets replaced by fibrous tissue or fat. This leads to arrhythmias that put people at risk for sudden cardiac death. It is more common in young people.
  • Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (otherwise known as broken heart syndrome, Takotsubo syndrome, and stress-induced cardiomyopathy) is a condition in which the left ventricle suddenly and temporarily becomes weak. It is caused by severe stress (emotional or physical).

People who have cardiomyopathy are at an increased risk of sudden cardiac death and progressive heart failure regardless of the type or cause.

It can be difficult to distinguish between types of cardiomyopathy. The American Heart Association uses two general classifications of cardiomyopathy – primary and secondary. Primary affects only the heart, and secondary is a result of illness or conditions that affect other areas of the boy. There are also subgroups within each primary classification.

How do cardiomyopathies occur? What are contributing lifestyle behaviors?

Viral infections that infect the heart are a major cause of cardiomyopathy. In some instances, cardiomyopathy is a result of another disease or its treatment, such as complex congenital heart disease (heart disease present at birth); nutritional deficiencies; uncontrollable, fast heart rhythms; or certain types of chemotherapy for cancer. Sometimes, cardiomyopathy can be linked to a genetic abnormality. Other times, the cause is unknown.

How can I avoid or prevent cardiomyopathies?

If you have a genetic predisposition to a certain type of cardiomyopathy, you may not be able to prevent it. However, there are lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk, such as:

  • Eat a heart healthy diet full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Opt for lean meats and fish and low-fat or fat-free dairy. Limit salt and added sugar. Avoid processed foods when possible. If you struggle with eating a healthy diet, ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian who can help guide you in your food choices.
  • Stay active. Talk to your doctor about what type of exercise is right for you. Regular exercise helps lower heart rate and blood pressure over time, which can improve heart health.
  • Keep your blood pressure in check. Monitor your blood pressure. If it’s not in a healthy range, talk to your doctor about steps you can take to lower it and to maintain a healthy blood pressure in the long term.
  • Maintain a healthy weight, and monitor any weight changes. Sudden weight fluctuations can be a sign of heart failure. If you’re overweight, talk to your doctor about how to lose weight and keep it off. You may benefit from a weight management program if it’s difficult for you to maintain your weight.
  • If you have diabetes, make sure it’s under control. Unmanaged diabetes can lead to heart conditions.
  • Quit smoking. It is so important to your overall health to quit smoking. Smoking damages your blood vessels and increases your risk of heart disease and many other conditions.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Some types of cardiomyopathy are linked to heavy alcohol use. Long-term heavy alcohol use can weaken your heart and lead to many health problems. Talk to your doctor about how much alcohol you can safely drink.
  • Manage stress. This is easier said than done, right? But there are steps you can take to help reduce the effect stress has on your body. For example, get enough sleep, follow your doctor’s health recommendations, practice deep breathing exercises, and consider yoga, meditation, or other ways to relax your body and mind.
  • Avoid over-the-counter medications that have stimulants as they can trigger an irregular heartbeat. Also, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can make heart failure worse. Some common NSAIDs are ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). Ask your doctor whether there are medications you should avoid.

In addition to lifestyle changes, you can also take steps to manage any health conditions you have. Some unmanaged health problems may lead to heart conditions, including cardiomyopathy.

What are the symptoms of cardiomyopathy? How do I know if I have it?

Symptoms of cardiomyopathies may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Arrhythmia
  • Shortness of breath, especially after physical exertion
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Swelling of the legs, feet, or abdomen
  • Chest pain

Are there any screenings or diagnostic tests for cardiomyopathy?

There are several tests doctors use to diagnose cardiomyopathy, including:

  • A physical exam, including listening to the heart
  • Taking a medical and family history
  • Blood tests
  • EKG
  • Echocardiogram
  • Stress test
  • Genetic testing

What are the treatment options for cardiomyopathy?

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to treat your cardiomyopathy, other treatments may be used. Your treatment plan will depend upon the type of cardiomyopathy you have, the severity of your condition, your related risk factors, and how your symptoms are affecting your quality of life. The goal of treatment is to reduce your risks and improve your quality of life by reducing symptoms. Your treatment, in addition to suggested lifestyle changes, may range from taking medications to having surgery.

Some surgical procedures that may be recommended are:

  • Iatrogenic/implanted pacemaker if your heart rate is too slow
  • Implanted defibrillator if you’re at risk for fatal arrhythmias
  • Ventricular assist device (VAD) to treat heart failure
  • Cardiac ablation to treat recurring arrhythmias that are resistant to medication or cardioversion
  • Heart transplant

The Beaumont difference

At Beaumont, our cardiologists, electrophysiologists, and heart surgeons will work with you to ensure you are provided with the most effective care for your condition.

Learn more about our heart centers and clinics, like the Corewell Health William Beaumont University Hospital Ernst Cardiovascular Center, Atrial Fibrillation Clinics, Valve Clinics, the Ministrelli Women’s Heart Center and the Center for Heart and Vascular Services, and find out why more patients in Southeast Michigan prefer Beaumont for heart care.

Start your search at Beaumont. Find a Beaumont cardiologist, electrophysiologist, or heart surgeon near you.