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What is cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is a condition in which the heart muscle is damaged and becomes weak so it can’t pump blood as well as it should.

There are different types of cardiomyopathy, with different causes which affect diverse groups of people.

Most people with cardiomyopathy are only mildly affected and can lead fairly normal lives.

However, if you have cardiomyopathy and your heart muscle gets too weak, you can develop heart failure.

What are the types of cardiomyopathy?

There are 4 main types of cardiomyopathy. They affect people in different ways.

  • In dilated cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle stretches and become thinner, so the heart hasn’t got the strength to beat properly.
  • In restrictive cardiomyopathy, the heart becomes rigid and can’t relax enough to beat properly.
  • In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle enlarges and the walls of the heart thicken - leaving too little room for blood in the heart.
  • In arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, the muscle in part of the heart is replaced with scar tissue.

What are the symptoms of cardiomyopathy?

Sometimes there are no symptoms for cardiomyopathy. In other people, symptoms vary depending on the type of cardiomyopathy they have, and their age. You might have:

  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • light headedness or feeling faint
  • heart palpitations
  • swelling in the legs due to fluid retention
  • chest pain
  • trouble breathing, especially when lying down
  • coughing
  • bloated abdomen (belly)

In children, you might notice they find it hard to keep up with their friends and become breathless easily. They may also have a cough, tummy pains, nausea or reduced appetite.

In babies, you might notice heavy breathing or sweating while they are feeding, and poor weight gain.

What causes cardiomyopathy?

The main causes of cardiomyopathy are:

Cardiomyopathy is sometimes called either primary or secondary. In primary cardiomyopathy, the cause is not known, while in secondary cardiomyopathy, tests are able to show the cause.

How is cardiomyopathy treated?

If you have cardiomyopathy, it’s important to live a healthy life as far as possible. You can do this by:

However, some people will also need medicines, some will need surgery and some will need an implantable device to keep their heart going properly.

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Resources and support

For more information about cardiomyopathy, talk to your doctor or visit the Cardiomyopathy Association of Australia website.

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Last reviewed: March 2020

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