Cardiomyopathy is a heart problem caused by a damaged heart muscle. There are different types of cardiomyopathy, with different causes, which affect diverse groups of people. The condition is usually managed with medication and a healthy lifestyle.
What is cardiomyopathy?
Cardiomyopathy is a condition in which your heart muscle is damaged and becomes weak so it can’t pump blood as well as it should.
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.
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
- light headedness or feeling faint
- heart palpitations
- swelling in the legs due to fluid retention
- chest pain
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:
- a viral infection affecting the heart
- heavy alcohol consumption
- a heart attack or coronary heart disease
- family history of cardiomyopathy
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.
Types of cardiomyopathy
There are four main types of cardiomyopathy. They affect people in different ways.
- In dilated cardiomyopathy, your heart muscle stretches and become thinner, so it hasn’t got the strength to beat properly.
- In restrictive cardiomyopathy, your heart becomes rigid and can’t relax enough to beat properly.
- In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, your 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 your heart is replaced with scar tissue.
Living with cardiomyopathy
If you have cardiomyopathy, it’s important to live a healthy life as far as possible. You can do this by:
- having a healthy diet
- not taking too much salt
- not drinking too much alcohol
- not smoking
- exercising regularly
However, some people will also need medicines, some will need surgery and some will need an implantable device to keep their heart going properly.
For more information about cardiomyopathy, talk to your doctor or visit the Cardiomyopathy Association of Australia website.
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Last reviewed: February 2018