What is Cardiomyopathy: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the myocardium or heart muscles, which get weakened progressively and are incapable of pumping blood to the rest of the body as efficiently as they should. There are different types of cardiomyopathy caused by various reasons. If left untreated, the condition could lead to arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), heart attack, and other complications.
Types of Cardiomyopathy
There are generally 4 common types of cardiomyopathy:
Dilated cardiomyopathy:It is the most common type of cardiomyopathy, generally called “enlarged heart.” It is characterized by enlarged or dilated heart muscle which may be too weak to pump blood efficiently. Dilated cardiomyopathy can be inherited or may be the result of coronary artery disease.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy :This type is genetically inherited and characterized by thickened heart walls which make it difficult for the blood to pass through the heart normally. As a result, the heart gets stiffened and the risk of getting electrical problems is higher.
Restrictive cardiomyopathy:This type of cardiomyopathy happens when the ventricles become stiff and are not able to relax to fill with blood. Some reasons behind this are cardiac amyloid, heart disease, and scarring of the heart. These conditions generally develop after a heart transplant.
Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD):It is a very rare form of cardiomyopathy. It is more commonly seen in young athletes and is the leading cause of death among them. In this, muscle of the right ventricle gets replaced with extra fibrous tissue and fat. As a result, there are abnormalities in the functioning of the right ventricle and also abnormal heart beats are seen. It also has a genetic predisposition.
Causes of Cardiomyopathy
Although the exact cause of cardiomyopathy is not known, it can either happen if it is acquired or inherited.
“Acquired” means you got cardiomyopathy because of some underlying health condition or disease such as heart tissue damage due to a heart attack, coronary artery disease, or infections in the muscles of the heart.
If cardiomyopathy is “inherited” it means you were born with the condition due to genes passed down from your parents to you.
Symptoms of Cardiomyopathy
The main effect of cardiomyopathy is that it makes the heart inefficient to pump blood to the tissues and organs of the body. The following symptoms are common to all types of cardiomyopathy:
- General fatigue and weakness
- Chest pain
- Bloated abdomen
- Shortness of breath, especially during exercise
- Fainting spells
- Swelling or edema of various body parts like feet, ankles, legs
Diagnosis of Cardiomyopathy
A cardiologist can call for a range of diagnostic tests as part of the assessment. These may include:
Ambulatory monitoring :Involves using devices that can track heart rhythms.
Cardiac MRI :Makes use of magnets and radio waves to form images of the heart.
Cardiac CT :Makes use of X-rays to capture images of the heart and blood vessels in video form.
Stress test :It’s an exercise that raises heart rate under controlled environment to see how the heart responds to stress.
Echocardiogram(ECG) :Sound waves are brought to use to create images of heartbeat and blood flow.
Electrocardiogram (EKG) :Records the electrical activity of the heart.
Myocardial biopsy :A tissue sample from the heart muscle is taken and studied for any cell changes.
Cardiac catheterization :In this, a thin tube called “catheter” is inserted through a blood vessel to measure the blood flow and pressure of the heart.
Treatment of Cardiomyopathy :
The treatment of cardiomyopathy involves controlling the symptoms for this condition. Following are some ways of achieving it:
Devices to improve blood flow :Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) devices are a good way of controlling contractions between the right and left sides of the heart. A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) assists in pumping more blood.
Devices to rectify arrhythmia :Implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) and pacemakers are used to treat irregular heart rhythms. These monitor the heartbeat and also send electrical impulses to the heart in case of arrhythmias.
Surgery :A surgery stands as the only option in case of severe symptoms. A heart transplant or open heart surgery is recommended when all other treatment options fail.
Medications :Some drugs can improve blood flow and regulate the symptoms of cardiomyopathy. Some other drugs like blood thinners, beta blockers or drugs to lower cholesterol may also be taken.
Risk factors for cardiomyopathy
- Family history of cardiac arrest, heart failure, or cardiomyopathy
- Prolonged high blood pressure
- Alcohol addiction
- Drug abuse
- Treatment for cancer with chemotherapy or radiation
- Thyroid problems
Complications arising due to cardiomyopathy
When the symptoms of cardiomyopathy persist for a long time, it leads to complications like:
Heart failure :In cardiomyopathy, the heart is unable to pump sufficient blood for the body’s requirement. If left untreated, it may lead to a cardiac failure.
Problems in heart valves :As this condition causes the heart to increase in size, the heart valves may not close properly. As a result of this, the blood can flow in a backwards direction in the valve.
Blood clots :Sometimes blood clots may form in the heart because it is unable to pump blood effectively. These may act as barrier to blood flowing to organs like brain and heart.
Cardiac arrest leading to sudden death :Cardiomyopathy can lead to arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats) which can cause fainting and even sudden death.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
What should I not do if I have cardiomyopathy?
A long standing habit of alcohol consumption can make you prone to cardiac cardiomyopathy. Left untreated, it can lead to weakening of heart muscles and resulting in heart failure.
What emergency situations should I anticipate if I have cardiomyopathy?
You should be alert if you seem to have symptoms like chest pain, palpitations, and fainting. These are all clear signs of a heart failure taking place and should immediately be brought to medical treatment in a hospital.
Is cardiomyopathy curable?
Although there is no cure for cardiomyopathy, its symptoms can be controlled by taking the appropriate medications.
How can I prevent cardiomyopathy?
Smoking and drinking habit should be completely avoided. Also you should watch out for your weight. If you are gaining weight, it means there is fluid retention in the body and you may be at a risk of developing heart failure.
Gleneagles Global Health City, is the best heart hospital in Chennai, with the expertise to treat a wide range of complex cardiac conditions.
Dr Murugu Sundara Pandian
M.S (General Surgery), MBBS, M.Ch. Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery
Senior Cardiothoracic Surgeon
Department of Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery