Cardiomyopathy

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

Cardiomyopathy is a type of heart disease that occurs when your heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick or stiff. As the condition progresses, your heart becomes weaker. This makes it difficult for your heart to pump blood effectively throughout your body or maintain its normal electrical rhythm. Eventually, cardiomyopathy can lead to other conditions, such as heart failure, arrhythmias, heart valve disease or sudden cardiac arrest.

Signs and Symptoms of Cardiomyopathy

Symptoms of cardiomyopathy vary, depending on the type of cardiomyopathy and its severity. Some people never experience symptoms and need no treatment. Others may overlook initial signs of cardiomyopathy, especially when the condition develops gradually. For others, the condition develops quickly and requires immediate medical treatment.

Whether your signs and symptoms of cardiomyopathy develop gradually or quickly, they are likely to include one or more of the following:

  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing, especially when lying down, after eating or with physical exertion
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, and abdomen 
  • Bulging of the neck veins
  • Congested cough
  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeats or heart murmurs
  • Dizziness, light-headedness or fainting

Types of Cardiomyopathy

There are two main categories of cardiomyopathy:

  • Ischemic cardiomyopathy, the more common category, occurs when the heart muscle is damaged from a heart attack or coronary artery disease. 
  • Non-ischemic cardiomyopathy is not related to coronary artery disease or a heart attack. There are four types of non-ischemic cardiomyopathy:
  1. Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD) is a rare type of cardiomyopathy that occurs when the muscle tissue in the right lower heart chamber dies and is replaced with scar tissue. This process disrupts the heart’s electrical signals and causes arrhythmias. It usually affects teens or young adults, and may cause sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes. Researchers think this type of cardiomyopathy is an inherited disease.
  2. Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), the most common type, occurs when damaged heart muscle leads to an enlarged, floppy heart. The heart stretches as it tries to compensate for its weakened pumping ability. DCM mostly affects adults aged 20 to 60 and men are more often affected than women. Learn more about dilated cardiomyopathy symptoms
  3. Hypertropic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is also very common. It can affect men and women of any age and is a common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young people, especially young athletes. This type occurs when heart muscle fibers enlarge abnormally, causing the heart walls to thicken, which leaves less space for blood in the chambers. Learn more about hypertropic cardiomyopathy symptoms
  4. Restrictive cardiomyopathy is the least common type of cardiomyopathy and tends to affect mostly older adults. Restrictive cardiomyopathy causes the heart’s lower chambers to become stiff and does not allow the heart to relax normally. Thickening of the left ventricular wall often occurs from abnormal tissue invading the heart muscle.

Risks and Causes of Cardiomyopathy 

Cardiomyopathy can be inherited or acquired. Researchers continue to explore genetic links to this condition and how they contribute to the various types of cardiomyopathy.

People who acquire cardiomyopathy develop it in response to another disease or condition, such as coronary artery disease or a heart attack. Diabetes, severe obesity, long-term alcoholism and long-term high blood pressure may also increase your risk. Viral infections and chronic exposure to toxins, such as some chemotherapy drugs, may also lead to the development of cardiomyopathy.  The abnormal build up of too much iron in the body can be another cause of this condition.

Inherited cardiomyopathy means your parents passed the gene for the disease on to you.  Many times, the underlying cause of cardiomyopathy remains unknown.

Diagnosing Cardiomyopathy

To diagnose your condition, your doctor will ask about your medical history, conduct a physical exam and perform any of the following cardiac tests:

Treating Cardiomyopathy

As with many conditions, doctors treat cardiomyopathy in various ways, depending on its cause. If the cardiomyopathy is caused by blockages in the coronary arteries, your doctor may treat it with:

Doctors often recommend the following lifestyle changes to eliminate conditions that contribute to cardiomyopathy or its symptoms:

  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages
  • Avoid cigarette smoking
  • Avoid high intensity sports and weight lifting
  • Avoid recreational drugs
  • Follow a low-fat, low-salt diet
  • Lose weight
  • Regular physical activity done in moderation is safe and encouraged to for overall cardiac health

Your doctor may also prescribe any of the following medications to help control your symptoms:

  • ACE inhibitors or (ARB) Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers to help relax blood vessels, lower blood pressure, and decrease the heart's workload
  • Beta blockers to slow the heart and limit disease progression
  • Digitalis to slow and regulate the heart rate, and modestly increase its force of contractions
  • Diuretics to eliminate extra fluid
  • Special medications to improve the outcome in people with dilated cardiomyopathy

When lifestyle changes and medications do not produce the desired results, your doctor may recommend any of the following surgical procedures:

  • A cardioverter defibrillator
  • A pacemaker implant
  • A ventricular assist device
  • A heart transplant 
  • Alcohol septal ablation to improve blood flow through the heart and out to the body (if you have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy)
  • Surgery to remove part of the thickened wall separating the heart's chambers (if you have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy)
  • Valve surgery repair or replacement

A Leader in Treating Complex Cardiovascular Disease

Our goal is to help patients with cardiomyopathy enjoy the best quality of life possible through lifestyle recommendations, medical management, catheter-based intervention or surgical options. The Tendick Center for Surgical Treatment of Heart Failure and the Transplant Center provide spealized heart care for patients. We are dedicated to providing exceptional care and the best patient care experience possible.

Aurora offers the best-in-class services and treatments, and some are unique to the areas we serve. You’ll find our doctors are conveniently located throughout Southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Find a doctor or heart specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.