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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.


The overall goals of treatment for cardiomyopathy are to:

  • Manage your symptoms

  • Prevent progression of your illness

  • Reduce your risk of complications

Treatment varies by which of the major types of cardiomyopathy you have:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy. Doctors often prescribe medications for dilated cardiomyopathy. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors — such as enalapril (Vasotec) or captopril (Capoten) — can improve the heart's pumping capability. Diuretics, such as furosemide (Lasix), can reduce fluid retention. Beta blockers — such as propranolol (Inderal) — can improve cardiac function and reduce the risk of death in people with dilated cardiomyopathy. Another option for some people with abnormal electrocardiograms is a special pacemaker that coordinates the contractions between the left and right ventricle (biventricular pacing). In people who may be at risk of serious arrhythmias, drug therapy or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) may be options. ICDs are small, minicassette-sized devices implanted in your chest to continuously monitor your heart rhythm and deliver precisely calibrated electrical shocks when needed to control abnormal, rapid heartbeats. The devices can also terminate other types of irregular heart rhythms.

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Your doctor may recommend beta blockers or calcium channel blockers such as verapamil (Calan, Isoptin), which can relax your heart, slow its pumping action and stabilize heart rhythms. For some people, a pacemaker may improve symptoms. In advanced cases of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a surgeon may remove a portion of the thickened muscle wall that interferes with normal blood flow. This procedure, called septal myotomy-myectomy, can reduce symptoms in most cases, although as with any operation there are risks. Recent experimental work has been done with a less invasive technique aimed at reducing the obstruction to blood flow from the heart.

  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy. Your doctor will recommend you pay careful attention to your salt and water intake and monitor your weight daily. Treatment of fluid retention is with diuretics.

Doctors often treat arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia with medications that control heart arrhythmias. These often include beta blockers. Doctors also often advise people with ARVD to avoid strenuous exercise.

Many of the medications that doctors prescribe for cardiomyopathy may have side effects. Be sure to discuss these possible side effects with your doctor before taking any of these drugs.

If you have advanced disease and medications can't adequately control symptoms or when the prognosis for survival is particularly poor, a heart transplant may be an option. Because of the shortage of donor hearts, even people who are critically ill may have a long wait before undergoing a heart transplant. In some cases, people can be supported with a mechanical heart assist device as they wait for an appropriately matched donor. These devices, known as ventricular assist devices (VAD), can support the circulation for a prolonged period and may allow you to live outside the hospital while you wait. In some people who aren't candidates for a heart transplant, VAD therapy may provide long-term support.


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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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