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Cardiomyopathy – literally “disease of the heart muscle” – affects approximately 500,000 individuals in the United States. It’s a leading cause of heart failure and the primary reason for most heart transplants.

Generally speaking, there are three types of cardiomyopathy:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy occurs when the left ventricle is enlarged and unable to pump blood through the aorta and into the rest of the body. If dilated cardiomyopathy is caused by coronary artery disease or a heart attack, then it may be referred to as ischemic cardiomyopathy.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a condition that causes the heart muscles to become thickened and overdeveloped. While HCM can be caused by aging and hypertension, it is usually genetic.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy (RCM), characterized by tissue buildup in the heart muscle, is typically caused by autoimmune disorders or idiopathic scarring. RCM causes a loss of ventricle function, limiting the heart’s ability to pump blood.

Cardiomyopathy has many potential causes: genetics, birth defects, aging, high blood pressure, infection of the heart muscle, diabetes, thyroid disease, alcohol and drug abuse (especially cocaine), chemotherapy, toxic exposure to mercury, cobalt, or lead, and peripartum cardiomyopathy. In some cases, cardiomyopathy is idiopathic (of no determinable cause).

Symptoms of Cardiomyopathy

One reason cardiomyopathy is often undiagnosed is that there are usually no signs or symptoms during the early stages of the disease. In many patients, cardiomyopathy is not diagnosed until the disease has advanced. Symptoms may include:

  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet (rarely in the veins of the neck)
  • Abdominal bloating (caused by fluid buildup)
  • Being out of breath – even when at rest
  • Irregular heartbeats – especially rapid, pounding, and fluttering beats
  • Heart murmur
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling lightheaded, dizzy
  • Fainting

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, let your physician know immediately. Also, you should find out if you’re at risk for heart disease. Use this free assessment tool. Cardiomyopathy symptoms will worsen over time. In some individuals, the symptoms worsen quickly. In others, the discomfort level can plateau for months or years without worsening.

Cardiomyopathy Risk Factors

Individuals of all ages can develop cardiomyopathy. Some types of cardiomyopathy are more frequently seen in certain groups. African Americans, for example, are more likely than whites to develop dilated cardiomyopathy. Likewise, men are more likely than women to have this type of cardiomyopathy.

Major risk factors for cardiomyopathy include:

  • Family history of cardiomyopathy, sudden cardiac arrest, or heart failure
  • Having (or having had) coronary artery disease, a heart attack, hemochromatosis, sarcoidosis, amyloidosis, or any kind of viral infection that caused inflammation of the heart muscle
  • Long-term alcoholism
  • Long-term blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic diseases

If you have these risk factors, you may wish to speak to your physician about what you can do to reduce your risk for cardiomyopathy and other cardiovascular diseases.

Diagnosing Cardiomyopathy

Cardiologists at Phoenix Heart Center may use a variety of tests and tools to diagnose cardiomyopathy. These tests may include:

  • Chest X-Ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Cardiac Catheterization (with biopsy)
  • Lab-Blood Testing
  • Stress tests

Read more about any of these diagnostic procedures at Phoenix Heart Center.

Preventing & Managing Cardiomyopathy

Whether you already have cardiomyopathy or want to reduce your risk for developing the disease, your cardiologist may recommend the following:

  • Commit to a low-sodium diet to limit fluid retention.
  • Get 30 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular activity at least six days a week to strengthen your heart muscle. (Talk to your physician before beginning a new exercise program.)
  • If you smoke, quit now.
  • Lose excess weight.
  • Limit alcoholic beverages: a maximum of two per day for men, one per day for women. Your cardiologist may advise that you quit drinking entirely.

Treating Cardiomyopathy

When treating cardiomyopathy, the cardiologists at Phoenix Heart Center have the following goals:

  • Help the patient manage the conditions that may cause or contribute to the disease.
  • Control the signs and symptoms of the disease.
  • Stop the disease from progressing.
  • Reduce complications and the patient’s risk for sudden cardiac arrest.

At Phoenix Heart Center, cardiologists treat each patient uniquely. Treatment modalities may vary from patient to patient, as cardiomyopathy can manifest itself in many different ways. Treatment options may include:

  • Blood pressure medication, such as ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, and angiotensin II receptor blockers.
  • Heart rate medication, such as calcium channel blockers and digoxin.
  • Electrolytes and diuretics to remove excess sodium and fluid.
  • Anticoagulants to prevent blood clots.
  • Anti-inflammatories to reduce inflammation.

A cardiologist may also evaluate the patient for a pacemaker, which helps regulate heart rate.

For more information about diagnosing and treating cardiomyopathy, contact a Phoenix Heart Center practice location convenient to you. Now serving Central Phoenix, East Mesa, and Tempe. You can also schedule an appointment online



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