Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that makes it harder for your heart to pump blood to the rest of your body.
It affects those of all ages and develops either because of genetics or an underlying condition.
Factors that can increase your risk of cardiomyopathy include:
- A family history of heart failure and sudden cardiac arrest
- Long-term high blood pressure
- Past heart attacks
- Coronary artery disease or an infection in the heart
- Long-term alcohol abuse
- Drug use
- Certain chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy for cancer
- Diabetes, an under- or overactive thyroid gland, or a disorder that causes the body to store excess iron (hemochromatosis)
In some cases, the cause of cardiomyopathy isn’t known. This is often the case when the disease develops in children.
Other types of the disease are called “unclassified cardiomyopathy.” Another type is “stress-induced cardiomyopathy,” also known as broken heart syndrome.
There may be no symptoms in the early stages of cardiomyopathy. However, as the condition advances, the following signs usually appear:
- Swelling of the legs, ankles and feet
- Bloating of the abdomen due to fluid build-up
- Coughing while lying down
- Rapid, pounding or fluttering heartbeats
- Dizziness, light-headedness and fainting
- Chest discomfort or pressure
Symptoms tend to get worse unless treated. In some people, the condition worsens quickly; in others, it is a gradual process.
Treatment is aimed at the cause of heart failure. Once you have been diagnosed, the main goals are to improve cardiac function, reduce symptoms and to help prevent complications.
Your doctor will also recommend lifestyle changes that reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
When to see a doctor
Because some types of cardiomyopathy can be hereditary, your doctor might advise that your family members be checked too.
See your doctor if you have one or more signs associated with cardiomyopathy, like severe difficulty breathing, fainting or chest pain that lasts for more than a few minutes.
In many cases, you can’t prevent cardiomyopathy, but let your doctor know if you have a family history of the condition.
You can help reduce your chances of cardiomyopathy and other types of heart disease with a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes:
- Controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
- Avoiding the use of alcohol or drugs
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Being regularly active
- Getting enough sleep
- Reducing stress
Teaser: Make heart-healthy choices