Shopping Basket

0 items £0

The item has been added to your basket.

Checkout     Continue Shopping



Cardiovascular system
Cardiomyopathy is the medical name given for a thickening or enlargement of the heart muscle which can affect anyone at any age, but which typically first presents symptoms in teenagers and young adults. There are four main types of cardiomyopathy.

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) - usually an inherited disease
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) - often has a sudden onset caused by external factors such as a bad cold or flu, but can be inherited
  • Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) - probably inherited, but environmental factors may also be involved
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy (RCM) - results from scarring of the heart muscle
In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, also known as hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, the walls of the heart become thickened, preventing the heart from filling with blood properly and also blocking the blood from being pumped out of the heart. It is usually an inherited disease that affects 1 in 500 people. It often affects young people who are physically active. In extreme cases, it can cause sudden death during exertion, for example while playing sports, if the problem has not been diagnosed. It is the biggest single cause of sudden death in the under 25s.

Dilated cardiomyopathy affects about 35 people in every 100,000. Men are twice as likely to be affected as women. The walls of the heart become dilated or stretched and as the heart becomes larger it gets weaker and is no longer able to pump blood efficiently. Causes of dilated cardiomyopathy vary but can include pregnancy, with the condition developing during mid to late pregnancy or soon after delivery; viral or bacterial infections of the heart; autoimmune disease; alcohol and drug abuse; and toxins. In 20-40% of cases dilated cardiomyopathy can be genetic.

Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy affects between 1 in 3,000 to 1 in 10,000 people. It is a condition in which heart muscle is replaced by fibrous or fatty tissues. The areas affected are patchy and the right side of the heart is usually the more badly affected. In the early stages of the disease the wall of the right ventricle becomes thicker but later may become enlarged with the wall thinning as the muscle fibres are replaced.

Restrictive cardiomyopathy is the rarest form of cardiomyopathy. It is caused by stiffening of the heart muscles. The heart tends to be of normal size, but it cannot relax properly and so does not fill with adequate volumes of blood between heart contractions. The most common causes of restrictive cardiomyopathy are amyloidosis and idiopathic myocardial fibrosis (a scarring of the heart of unknown cause). It frequently occurs after a heart transplant.
Obvious symptoms may not be present in some sufferers. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is usually genetic. If there are unexplained sudden heart deaths in the family or a relation has been diagnosed with the condition, screening is essential even if a person has no symptoms as there is a 50% chance of children inheriting the condition from an affected parent.

Where symptoms of cardiomyopathy do occur these include chest pains, heart palpitations and abnormal heart rhythms, shortness of breath, fluid retention and swollen ankles, unexplained fainting or dizziness and extreme fatigue.

Cardiomyopathies can be diagnosed by an ECG (electrocardiogram), ECHO (ultrasound echocardiography), exercise tests, MRI (magnetic resonance scanning) and gene testing.
Treatments for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy include medications such as beta-blockers, diuretics, calcium antagonists and anti-arrhythmic agents. Other treatments include catheter based treatments, pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, surgery or transplantation.

Treatments for dilated cardiomyopathy and arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy include drugs such as ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, amiodarone, digoxin, diuretics and warfarin. Pacemakers, implantable defibrillators or heart transplantation may also be used.

Treatments for restrictive cardiomyopathy include diuretics and drugs to correct abnormal heart rhythm.
When to consult your pharmacist
There is no medication that a community pharmacist can recommend for the treatment of cardiomyopathies. However, you must tell your pharmacist if you have cardiomyopathy and let him or her know which medicines you are taking whenever you ask for advice about other illnesses.
When to consult your doctor
See your doctor if you or a relative has any of the signs and symptoms noted above especially chest pains, palpitations, breathlessness or dizziness. If a close relative is known, or suspected to have cardiomyopathy insist on screening for yourself and for other close relatives.
Living with cardiomyopathy
Some people who have cardiomyopathy, especially those who have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, may live a healthy life with few problems or symptoms. Others may have serious symptoms and complications. Always talk to your doctor or cardiologist about what is right for you and for your condition.

Take all your medicines as your doctor prescribes. If you do not know how to take the medicines or you do not understand what they are for, talk to your pharmacist or doctor. Never stop taking any of the medicines without your doctor's advice.

Do not miss any appointments with your doctor or hospital. It is important that you have regular check-ups so that your condition can be monitored. Call your doctor if you notice new or worse symptoms, such as swelling in your ankles, feet, legs, or abdomen. These symptoms may be a sign that the disease is getting worse.

Some simple lifestyle changes will help take care of your heart and help you manage your condition. Your doctor can help you decide what kind of eating plan is right for you. Your doctor may suggest a diet that is low in salt and fat. Also talk with your doctor about the amounts and types of fluids that are safe and healthy for you.

Lose excess weight. By keeping close to the recommended weight for your height, you can help reduce the amount of work your heart has to do. Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables. Aim for at least five portions a day. It may sound a lot, but can easily be achieved if you eat an apple or raw carrot as a snack instead of a bag of crisps or biscuits.

Talk with your doctor about the amount and type of physical activity that is right for you. People who have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy should not do vigorous exercise. However, moderate exercise, such as walking, often is a good idea.

If you smoke, you should make every effort to stop the habit. There are many products that can help reduce the craving to smoke while giving up. Whichever products are used, they will only help if you are committed to stop smoking and you will be more likely to succeed if you also receive counselling and support while trying to give up. Do not be afraid to ask your doctor, practice nurse or pharmacist for help.

Reduce your alcohol consumption. Alcohol can cause cardiomyopathy and it may interact with some of your medicines.

Learn to cope with stress, do not let things annoy or irritate you. Learn to relax, get plenty of sleep and rest.
Useful Tips
  • Watch out for symptoms - especially in young athletes
  • Never force a youngster to undertake physical activity if they display any of the symptoms mentioned
  • Don't mistake cardiomyopathy for asthma
  • If you have symptoms of unexplained breathlessness, dizziness, palpitations or black-outs, seek a doctor's advice immediately

Reviewed on 22 November 2010

Health Advice
My Account
Main Menu