Cardiomyopathy is a group of chronic heart disease that affects the heart muscle, causing it to weaken and unable to pump blood to the rest of the body. Cardiomyopathy causes the heart to become thick, enlarged, or rigid, and in rare cases, the muscle tissues are replaced by scar tissue.
As the condition exacerbates, the heart becomes weaker. This can lead to irregular heartbeat and eventual heart failure, causing a build-up of fluid in the lungs, abdomen, legs, ankles, and feet.
There are different types of cardiomyopathy caused by a wide range of factors, from medical conditions to certain medications. The disease is inherited in one-third of cases. Other causes include heavy alcohol use, drug abuse, viral infections, and heavy metal contamination.
Treatment of cardiomyopathy depends on the type and how severe the symptoms are. The treatment procedure could include surgery, lifestyle changes, and medication. According to the Global Burden of Disease study carried out in 2015, cardiomyopathy and myocarditis affected about 2.5 million people.
Types of Cardiomyopathy
The major types of cardiomyopathy are:
- Dilated cardiomyopathy
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
- Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia
- Restrictive cardiomyopathy
This the most prevalent type of cardiomyopathy. It occurs mostly in adults between the ages of 20 to 60. Dilated cardiomyopathy affects the heart’s ventricles and the atria. These are the lower and upper chambers of the heart.
The disease usually starts in the left ventricle, which is the heart’s main pumping chamber. The heart muscle begins to stretch and become thin (dilation). This eventually causes the inside of the chamber to enlarge. The condition spreads to the right ventricle and then to the atria, the upper chamber of the heart.
As the heart chambers dilate, the heart’s contraction is compromised, which results in inefficient pumping of blood. The heart becomes weaker, and this can lead to heart failure.
Common symptoms of heart failure include fatigue, shortness of breath, and swelling of the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen, and veins in the neck. This type of cardiomyopathy also can lead to blood clots in the heart, irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) and heart valve problems.
The source of this type of cardiomyopathy is usually not known. However, one-third of people how to have this condition inherit it from their parents.
Other conditions such as heart attacks, high blood pressure, HIV, diabetes can lead to the disease. Alcohol and toxins like cobalt can cause the disease.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy affects people regardless of their age. It affects men and women equally and is a common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young people.
This condition occurs due to the enlargement of the heart muscle cells, which causes the walls of the ventricles to thicken. While the size of the ventricle may remain normal, the enlarged heart muscle cells may block blood flow out of the ventricle.
This condition is known as obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may also cause the septum – the wall that divides the left and right sides of the heart – to thicken and bulge into the left ventricle.
This blocks the flow of blood out of the left ventricle, making it difficult for it to pump blood. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, and fainting.
Non-obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy occurs when the thickened ventricle does not block the flow of blood out of the left ventricle, causing blood to leak backward through the mitral valve.
Sometimes this type of cardiomyopathy shows no symptoms, and people can go the rest of their lives without being affected by the disease. Other times, the disease has severe symptoms and complications.
Although rare, some people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can have sudden cardiac arrest during strenuous physical activity. The physical activity can trigger life-threatening irregular heartbeats.
Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia (ARVD)
This is a type of cardiomyopathy that occurs when the muscle tissue in the right ventricle deteriorates and is replaced with scar tissue.
It disrupts the heart’s electrical signals and causes irregular heartbeats, also known as arrhythmias. Symptoms of this condition include palpitations and fainting after vigorous physical activity.
ARVD often affects teens and young adults. It can also cause sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes.
It is the rarest form of cardiomyopathy, and it tends to affect older adults. The ventricles of the heart become rigid because abnormal tissue, like scar tissue, replaces the normal heart muscle.
The ventricles do not relax properly and fill with blood. Over time, the flow of blood in the heart is reduced. This can eventually lead to heart failure.
Restrictive heart failure can be caused by the following;
- Connective tissue disorders
- Hemochromatosis, a condition in which too much iron builds up in your body. The excess iron is toxic to the body and can damage organs, including the heart.
- Amyloidosis, a disease in which abnormal proteins build up in the body’s organs, including the heart.)
- Certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation
- Sarcoidosis, a disease that causes inflammation and can affect the body’s organs.
Signs and Symptoms of Cardiomyopathy
The symptoms of cardiomyopathy include;
- Exhaustion and Fatigue
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath especially during vigorous physical activity
- Fainting spells
- Edema or swelling of the legs, ankles, and feet
- Heart palpitations
- High blood pressure
Cardiomyopathy can be diagnosed using the following tests:
- MRI scan, which uses magnetic fields and radio waves to view inside the body
- Electrocardiogram (ECG), a test used to scan heart rhythm and electrical activity
- Echocardiogram, a test that uses echoes to examine the heart and nearby blood vessel
- Exercise test
- Detailed inquiry into the family tree to check for a history of heart disease
The treatment of cardiomyopathy depends on how damaged the heart is. Some people may go throughout their lives without requiring treatment as they show no symptoms.
Others who begin to show signs of the disease may find themselves struggling with breathlessness or chest pain will need to make certain lifestyle adjustments or take medications.
There is no cure for cardiomyopathy. The condition can, however, be controlled through the following methods:
- Medications such as those used to treat high blood pressure, prevent water retention, keep the heart beating with a regular rhythm, reduce inflammation and prevent blood clots
- Healthy lifestyle changes
- Implants like pacemakers and defibrillators
- Heart transplant
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Avoid smoking
- Support from friends, family, and doctor