Cardiomyopathy is any disease of the heart muscle in which the heart loses its ability to pump blood effectively. The disease can have various causes, including viral infections. In many cases cardiomyopathy is a genetic condition, which means other family members will also be at risk. Symptoms include fatigue, difficulty breathing, weight gain, swelling and chest pain. Cardiomyopathy can result in heart failure.
What Is Cardiomyopathy?
Cardiomyopathy changes and weakens the heart muscle. The weakened heart muscle may become thin and larger, weakening the heart and its ability to pump effectively. The heart eventually goes into a state of pump failure and cannot supply the body with enough blood flow. Cardiomyopathy affects both sexes and all ages. It is usually a long-term disease. In some cases, an individual may have no symptoms, but the disease will be detected on an abnormal echocardiogram or a cardiac MRI.
What Causes Cardiomyopathy?
Viral infections that infect the heart or coronary artery disease are major causes of cardiomyopathy. The disease also can be the result of another disease or its treatment, such as complex congenital heart defects, nutritional deficiencies, uncontrollably fast heart rhythms and certain types of chemotherapy. When cardiomyopathy is a genetic condition, it is caused by abnormalities in genes or chromosomes at birth. The cause of cardiomyopathy also can be unknown.
Types of Cardiomyopathy
Dilated Cardiomyopathy: Dilated cardiomyopathy causes the cavity of the heart to enlarge, weakening the entire heart muscle and causing it to pump poorly. Researchers believe this condition may be related to a recent viral infection. Between 30-15 percent of people with dilated cardiomyopathy have a family history of the disease, which means it is likely genetic in these cases. Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most common form of the disease, and it affects males more than females. It can affect any age, but the average is 30 to 50 years old. It can be caused by chronic, excessive alcohol consumption, along with dietary deficiencies.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy: Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy occurs when the muscle mass of the left ventricle of the heart is larger than normal, or the wall between the two ventricles becomes enlarged and obstructs blood flow from the left ventricle. The heart is not able to relax properly between beats and fails to fill with blood. This type of cardiomyopathy can cause the heart muscle to increase in size, resulting in chest pain, difficulty breathing, fatigue and dizziness. Some people who have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy have cardiac arrhythmias, which can cause sudden death. This type of cardiomyopathy affects approximately one in 500 individuals and is usually inherited. It can affect people of all ages.
Restrictive Cardiomyopathy: Restrictive cardiomyopathy occurs when the muscular wall of the heart becomes excessively rigid, impairing the filling of the ventricles with blood between heartbeats. The heart muscle can pump but cannot relax to fill with blood, causing high pressures in the heart and fluid buildup. This is the least common type of cardiomyopathy in the United States. It usually results from another disease. Restrictive cardiomyopathy can also be caused by genetic factors.
What about genetic testing?
Genetic testing is possible for some patients and families with cardiomyopathy. The Medical Genetics Program at The Ohio State University Medical Center provides genetic consultations to patients and their family members who may have or be at risk of a genetic condition. They will assist you and your family in deciding if testing is right for you. Usually genetic testing involves having a blood sample drawn and should begin with a family member who has the condition in question. The Medical Genetics Program staff will discuss any concerns you may have about genetic testing, such as the cost and insurance coverage, as well as the possible benefits of genetic testing for you and your family.