What Is Cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle. It is classified as either primary or secondary cardiomyopathy. Primary cardiomyopathy does not indicate a specific cause, whereas secondary cardiomyopathy is due to specific causes, usually involving other organs of the body.

Types of Cardiomyopathy

There are three types of cardiomyopathy:

  • Dilated (or congestive) cardiomyopathy – Most common type; heart muscle thins and enlarges, becomes weak and doesn’t pump normally; often leads to congestive heart failure.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – Heart muscle thickens, obstructing the flow of blood. The mitral valve is also damaged, causing it to leak. Usually a genetic condition.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy – Rarest type; heart muscle becomes hard and stiff, making it difficult for the ventricles to fill with blood between heartbeats.

Symptoms of Cardiomyopathy

Symptoms vary by type of disease, but may include:

  • Shortness of breath, especially following physical exertion
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen hands, feet and/or ankles
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain (angina pectoris)
  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)

Causes of Cardiomyopathy

At times, a specific cause for cardiomyopathy is never known. The most commonly known causes of cardiomyopathy include:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Infection or inflammation of the heart muscle
  • Various cancer treatments
  • Prolonged alcohol abuse
  • Heredity

Diagnosing Cardiomyopathy

If you are experiencing symptoms, you should consult your physician. In order to determine the cause of symptoms, your doctor will perform a complete physical exam and review your medical and family medical history. In addition, various tests may be prescribed:

Treatment Options

Treatment of cardiomyopathy is very important because, left untreated, cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure. Treatment options include lifestyle changes and medication, and sometimes require additional procedures.


Simple lifestyle changes can help treat not only the condition of cardiomyopathy, but the related symptoms as well. Recommendations include:

  • Diet – Follow a heart-healthy, low-fat, low-sodium diet.
  • Exercise – Engage in regular activity, and learn to balance activity with rest.
  • Quit smoking – Smoking damages the heart muscle and causes it to work harder.
  • Lose weight- If you are considered overweight or obese, discuss with your doctor the best weight loss plan for you.
  • Avoid alcohol – Alcohol consumption aggravates symptoms.


In addition to lifestyle changes, certain medications are also effective in treating cardiomyopathy. Your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following:

  • ACE inhibitors – Relax blood vessels and lowers blood pressure, decreasing heart’s workload.
  • Anticoagulants – Prevent blood clots from forming.
  • Antiarrhythmic drugs – Regulate the heartbeat.
  • Beta blockers – Slow the heart rate and decrease the heart’s workload.
  • Diuretics – Help eliminate excess fluid, helping the heart to work more efficiently. Also reduces swelling and shortness of breath.
  • Digitalis – Strengthen the heartbeat.

Other Treatments

At times, lifestyle changes and/or medications may not provide the most effective treatment. Other treatment procedures may include:

  • Pacemaker – Surgically implanted to regulate the heartbeat.
  • Heart transplant – Many hypertrophic cardiomyopathy patients are young adults who are otherwise healthy. If drugs are not effective, a heart transplant may be the most beneficial treatment.
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