Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle affecting its size, shape and structure, making it unable to pump enough blood throughout the body. Cardiomyopathy can affect any age group and is a serious, lifelong condition. As the condition progresses, the heart muscle weakens.

Common cardiomyopathies include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and dilated cardiomyopathy.

CausesCardiomyopathy is hereditary, but some family members may be affected by it more than others. Some may not experience any symptoms at all.

If you know cardiomyopathy runs in your family, consider speaking to your doctor about a screening for your family. Accurate assessment, diagnosis, and treatment are essential.

SymptomsSome people experience no signs or symptoms of cardiomyopathy. The most common symptoms experienced include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Fainting
  • Light-headedness
  • Breathlessness upon exertion (caused by fluid build-up in the lungs)
  • Arrhythmias
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may cause dizziness, fainting, heart murmurs and chest pain
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy can cause swelling of the hands and feet

Diagnosis Accurately diagnosing cardiomyopathy is difficult and may require several tests. To make a firm diagnosis, any of the following may be performed:

  • Angiography
  • Blood tests
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Chest X-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram
  • Exercise electrocardiogram (Stress test)

TreatmentSince cardiomyopathy is inherited, it can’t be cured, but in the majority of cases, it does not have to negatively impact your quality of life. Many effective treatments exist to help manage the symptoms of cardiomyopathy, including:

  • medication (ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers)
  • cardioversion or ablation
  • pacemakers or implantable cardioverter defibrillators
  • heart surgery or heart transplant (in rare instances)

Your doctor will let you know which treatments are right for you. Lifestyle changes including reducing your salt or alcohol consumption may be recommended in addition.