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Cardiomyopathy
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Cardiomyopathy

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HEART & BLOOD

Cardiovascular System

Cardiomyopathy literally means disease of the heart muscle Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle. This leads to impairment of the heart's ability to pump blood, and eventually to heart failure. The name comes from the roots cardio meaning "heart," myo meaning "muscle" and pathy meaning "disease." The known causes of cardiomyopathy are many, and include coronary artery disease and valvular heart disease.

Cardiomyopathy occurs in three major types:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy. This type involves enlargement of one or more of your heart's chambers.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This form involves thickening of your heart's muscle.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy. This type results in your heart muscle becoming more rigid.

You can take steps to reduce your risk of developing cardiomyopathy. If you have the condition, treatment depends on what type you have and may include medications, implantable devices or, in severe cases, a heart transplant.

When to seek medical advice

See your doctor for an evaluation and diagnosis if you have one or more of the signs and symptoms associated with cardiomyopathy. Call your doctor at once if you experience chest pain or difficulty breathing.

Because cardiomyopathy sometimes occurs in more than one family member, talk with your close family members, including siblings and parents, about having them examined for the presence of this condition.

Screening and diagnosis

Your doctor will conduct a physical examination and take a medical history, including asking about your family history of heart problems. He or she will also ask about the circumstances in which your symptoms occur — for example, whether physical activity brings on your symptoms. If your doctor suspects cardiomyopathy, you may need to undergo several tests to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions. These tests may include:

  • Chest X-ray. An image of your heart will show whether it's enlarged.

  • Echocardiogram. By using sound waves or ultrasound to noninvasively create images of your heart, your doctor can view the size of your heart and its motions as it beats.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). In this noninvasive test, electrode patches are attached to your skin to measure electrical impulses from your heart. An ECG can show disturbances in the electrical activity of your heart, which may identify areas of injury.

  • Cardiac catheterization. In this procedure, a thin tube (catheter) is threaded through your blood vessels and into your heart, where a small sample (biopsy) of your heart can be extracted for analysis in the laboratory.

  • Blood tests. One blood test can measure brain natriuretic peptide (BNP), a protein produced in your heart. Your blood level of BNP rises when your heart is subjected to the stress of congestive heart failure. Measuring your BNP level helps your doctor differentiate congestive heart failure from other disorders. Another blood test measures your iron level. Having too much may indicate an iron overload disorder called hemochromatosis. Accumulating too much iron in your heart muscle can weaken it. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent the progression of this serious disease.

Complications

Having cardiomyopathy may produce the following complications:

  • Blood clots. Dilated or restrictive cardiomyopathy may make you more susceptible to blood clots in your heart. If clots enter your circulatory system, they can obstruct the blood flow to vital organs, including your heart and brain. If clots develop on the right side of your heart, they may travel to your lungs. To reduce your risk, your doctor may prescribe a blood thinner (anti-clotting medication).

  • Heart murmur. Because people with dilated cardiomyopathy have an enlarged heart, two of the heart's four valves — the mitral and tricuspid valves — may not close properly, often leading to heart murmurs.

  • Cardiac arrest. All forms of cardiomyopathy can lead to abnormal heart rhythms. Some of these heart rhythms are too slow to sustain the circulation and some are too fast to allow the heart to beat efficiently. In either case, these abnormal heart rhythms can result in fainting or cardiac arrest.

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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