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Cardiomyopathy is a chronic disease of the heart muscle (myocardium), in which the muscle is abnormally enlarged, thickened, and/or stiffened. The weakened heart muscle loses the ability to pump blood effectively, resulting in irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) and possibly even heart failure.


Cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, primarily affects the left ventricle, which is the main pumping chamber of the heart. The disease is often associated with inadequate heart pumping and other heart function abnormalities. Cardiomyopathy is not common (affecting about 50,000 persons in the United States) but it can be severely disabling or fatal. Severe cases may result in heart failure and will require a heart transplant for patient survival. Cardiomyopathy is a heart condition that not only affects middle-aged and elderly persons, but can also affect infants, children, and adolescents.
There are four major types of cardiomyopathy:
  • Dilated (congestive cardiomyopathy). This is the most common form of the disease. The heart cavity is enlarged and stretched (cardiac dilation), which results in weak and slow pumping of the blood, which in turn can result in the formation of blood clots. Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) and disturbances in the electrical conduction processes in the heart may also occur. Most patients with this type of cardiomyopathy develop congestive heart failure. There is also a genetically-linked cardiac disease, Barth syndrome, that can cause dilated cardiomyopathy. This syndrome affects male children, and is usually diagnosed at birth or within the first few months of life. Pregnant women during the last trimester of pregnancy or after childbirth may develop a type of dilated cardiomyopathy referred to as peripartum cardiomyopathy.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. With this type of cardiomyopathy, the muscle mass of the left ventricle enlarges, or hypertrophies. In hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy (HOCM), the septum (wall) between the two heart ventricles (the pumping chambers) becomes enlarged and obstructs blood flow from the left ventricle. The thickened wall can also distort one leaflet of the mitral valve, which results in leakage. HOCM is most common in young adults. HOCM is often hereditary, caused by genetic mutations in the affected person's DNA. The disease is either inherited through one parent who is a carrier or through both parents who each contribute a defective gene. HOCM is also referred to as asymmetrical septal hypertrophy (ASH) or idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis (IHSS). In another form of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, non-obstructive cardiomyopathy, the enlarged heart muscle does not obstruct the blood flow through the heart.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy. This is a less common type of cardiomyopathy, in which the heart muscle of the ventricles becomes rigid. Restrictive cardiomyopathy affects the diastolic function of the heart, that is, it affects the period when the heart is relaxing between contractions. Since the heart cannot relax adequately between contractions, it is harder for the ventricles to fill with blood between heartbeats. This type of cardiomyopathy is usually the result of another disease.
  • Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC). ARVC is very rare and is believed to be an inherited condition. With ARVC, heart muscle cells become disorganized and damaged and are replaced by fatty tissues. The damage appears to be a result of the body's inability to remove damaged cells. The damaged cells are replaced with fat, leading to abnormal electrical activity (arrhythmias) and abnormal heart contractions. ARVC is the most common cause of sudden death in athletes.

Causes & symptoms

Cardiomyopathy may be caused by many different factors, including viral infections (e.g., myocarditis), heart attacks, alcoholism, long-term, severe high blood pressure, genetic neuromuscular diseases (e.g., muscular dystrophies and ataxias), genetic metabolic disorders, complications from AIDS, and other reasons that have not yet been identified (idiopathic cardiomyopathy). Cardiomyopathy caused by heart attacks (referred to as ischemic cardiomyopathy) results from scarring in the heart muscle. Larger scars or more numerous heart attacks increases the risk that ischemic cardiomyopathy will develop. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy usually develops about 10 years after sustained, heavy alcohol consumption. Other toxins that may cause cardiomyopathy include drugs and radiation exposure.
The major symptoms of cardiomyopathy include:
  • shortness of breath
  • temporary and brief loss of consciousness, especially after engaging in activity
  • lightheadness, especially after engaging in activity
  • decreased ability to tolerate physical exertion
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • palpitations, that is, the sensation of feeling the heart beat
  • chest pain (angina), whereby there is a feeling of sharp and unrelenting pressure in the middle of the chest (especially experienced by persons whose cardiomyopathy is a result of a previous heart attack)
  • high blood pressure
Other symptoms that may be associated with cardiomyopathy include:
  • abdominal swelling or enlargement
  • swelling of legs or ankles
  • low amount of urine during the daytime, but a need to urinate at night
  • decreased alertness and difficulty concentrating
  • cough
  • loss of appetite


A complete physical examination and health history review by a health care provider is recommended if a person is suspected to have cardiomyopathy. The examination may reveal the presence of an irregular heartbeat, heart murmur, or other abnormal heart and breath sounds.
Various invasive and non-invasive tests are performed as diagnostic tools for cardiomyopathy. An echocardiogram is the most informative noninvasive test for diagnosing the type of cardiomyopathy and the degree of dysfunction in the heart muscle. High frequency sound waves produce moving images of the beating heart on a video screen, which allows the measurement of muscle thickness, size, pumping ability, degree of obstruction, chamber size, and heart valve movement.
The use of non-invasive radiation-based imaging procedures, such as chest radiography, computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedures show the size, shape, and structure of the heart. If dilated cardiomyopathy is suspected, one of these techniques is performed first to see if the heart is enlarged and whether there is any fluid accumulation in the lungs.
An electrocardiogram (EKG) is a non-invasive procedure where electrodes are placed on the person's limbs and chest wall to provide a graphic record of the electrical activity of the heart. This test can show the amount of heart enlargement and reveal abnormal heart rhythms. Children with a normal echocardiogram may have an abnormal EKG, indicating that they may be a carrier of the cardiomyopathy gene and may develop the disease later in life. A person may also wear a Holter monitor, which is an external device that continuously records heart rhythms. The monitor can identify irregular heart rhythms associated with dilated, hypertrophic, or restrictive cardiomyopathy.
Genetic studies may help in understanding the cause of cardiomyopathy, since the disease may be a symptom of another genetic disorder. If a child under the age of 4 has cardiomyopathy, metabolic screening should be performed, for certain metabolic disorders with cardiomyopathy as a symptom can be controlled with a change in diet, drug therapy, or by a bone marrow transplant, which may reduce or reverse the progression of the cardiomyopathy. Since cardiomyopathy can be inherited and present initially without signs or symptoms, relatives of a patient with the disease should be screened periodically for evidences of the disease.
Invasive procedures, which involve the use of anesthesia, are used to determine the severity of the disease. In the radionuclide ventriculogram procedure, a low-dose radioactive material is injected into a vein and flows to the heart. The heart is photographed with a special camera to assess the contraction and filling of the ventricles at rest and with activity. Cardiac catheterization involves insertion of thin, flexible plastic tubes (catheters) into the heart from a blood vessel in the groin area. A dye is then injected that can indicate blood pressures, blood flow within the heart, and blockages in the arteries. Although rarely used, a heart muscle biopsy, where the doctor removes a few, tiny pieces of the heart for laboratory studies, can aid in diagnosing possible infections in the heart or metabolic abnormalities. An electrophysiology study is similar to heart catheterization. Catheters with fine wires are inserted through veins in the groin area into the heart. Electrical stimuli applied through the wires can indicate abnormal conduction pathways, arrhythmias, effectiveness of drugs, and the need for an implanted defibrillator.


Although there is a long list of possible causes for cardiomyopathy, few are directly treatable or curable. Therefore, most therapy is directed towards treating the effects of the disease on the heart. If cardiomyopathy is diagnosed at an advanced stage, a critically ill patient will require immediate life-saving measures such as placement of a breathing tube and administration of medicines to improve heart function and blood pressure. Once the patient is stabilized, long-term therapy needs, such as oral medication, pacemakers, surgery, or heart transplantation, will be identified.
Initial treatments for cardiomyopathy for patients diagnosed in the earlier stages of cardiomyopathy include drug therapy to relieve heart failure, to decrease oxygen requirements and workload of the heart (by relaxing the arteries in the body), and to regulate abnormal heartbeats. Drugs that help the heart contract include digoxin for at-home use and dopamine, dobutamine, and milrinone for in-hospital use. Diuretics help relieve fluid overloads in heart failure. Vasodilators, ACE-inhibitors, and beta blockers dilate blood vessels in the body and lower blood pressure, thus reducing the workload for the heart. For patients at risk of developing blood clots, anticoagulation medication or blood thinners such as heparin or coumadin are prescribed along with diuretics such as Lasix and aldactone to relieve venous congestion. These drugs may result in side effects, so the patient must be carefully monitored to prevent complications.
When drugs are not effective or when arrhythmias require regulation, a pacemaker or a defibrillator may be implanted surgically into the patient. The procedures for implanting both devices involves placing a small mechanical device under the skin of the chest or abdomen with wire leads threaded through veins to the heart. A pacemaker is used to monitor and stabilize slow heartbeats, while a defibrillator ("an emergency room in the heart") detects and treats fast and potentially lethal heart rhythms. Since sudden death may occur in patients with cardiomyopathy, defibrillators are often recommended for persons who show evidence of arrhythmias.
For heart failure symptoms associated with restricted blood flow from the ventricles, septal myomectomy, which is considered major heart surgery, is sometimes recommended. This procedure involves surgical removal of the part of the thickened septal muscle that blocks the blood flow. In some cases, the mitral valve is replaced with an artificial valve. However, the procedure does not prevent sudden death due to hear arrhythmias nor does it stop the disease from progressing.
Since cardiomyopathy often becomes progressively worse, the heart can reach a state where it no longer responds to medication or to surgery. The treatment of "last resort" is a heart transplant, when the patient exhibits severe heart failure symptoms. A transplant can cure the symptoms of heart failure, but the surgery carries significant risks, such as infection, organ rejection, and side effects of required medications.
There are surgical procedures that can be implemented to sustain life until a transplant donor becomes available. Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) provides mechanical circulatory support, while Dynamic Cardiomyoplasty is a procedure whereby a skeletal-muscular flap, created from a patient's chest muscle, is first taught to contract and then is wrapped around the heart to aid in contraction.

Alternative treatment

Alternative treatments are directed towards control of the effects of heart disease. Exercise, diet, nutrition, herbal therapies, stress reduction, and other life style changes (e.g., cessation of smoking) can all be used to complement conventional treatments. Certain herbs such as fox glove (Digitalis purpurea) and lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) contain cardiac glycosides that make them particularly potent and may cause dangerous side effects. Their use should be supervised only be a qualified medical herbalist, with the concurrence of the primary conventional health care provider. Even the use of less potent herbs that improve cardiac function, such as hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata), should be approved by the conventional health care provider and administered under the supervision of a medical herbalist.


Long-term prognosis can be unpredictable, as there can be a wide range of severities and outcomes associated with the disease. There is no cure, but some symptoms and complications can be managed and controlled with medication and implantable devices or with a heart transplant.


Prevention of cardiomyopathy is focused on controlling risk factors for heart disease, which includes maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating a well-balanced nutritious diet, and avoiding or minimizing smoking.

Key terms

Arrhythmia — An abnormal rhythm or irregularity of the heartbeat. The heartbeat may either be too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradicardia). Arrhythmias may cause symptoms such as palpitation or light-headedness, but many have more serious consequences, including sudden death.
Congestive heart failure — Potentially lethal condition in which congestion develops in the lungs that is produced by a heart attack, poorly controlled or uncontrolled hypertension, or disease processes that weaken the heart
Hypertrophy — Literally means an increase in the muscle mass (or weight) of the heart.
Mitral valve leaflets — The mitral valve is made up of two valve leaflets (the anteromedial leaflet and the posterolateral leaflet) and a ring around the valve, known as the mitral valve annulus. The orientation of the two leaflets resembles a bishop's miter, which is where the valve receives its name.
Myocardium — The muscular wall of the heart located between the inner endocardial layer and the outer epicardial layer.
Noninvasive — Refers to tests that generally do not invade the integrity of the body, such as echocardiography or electrocardiography. (Cardiac cathetherization, on the other hand, in which catheters are introduced through blood vessels into the heart, is an example of an invasive test).
Septum (ventricular septum) — That portion of the heart wall that divides the right and left ventricles.
Ventricles — The two main (lower) pumping chambers of the heart; the right and left ventricles pump blood to the lungs and aorta, respectively.



Dilated Cardiomyopathy: A Medical Dictionary, Bibliography, and Annotated Research Guide to Internet Resources. San Diego, CA: Icon Health Publications, 2004.
Maron, Barry J., and Salberg, Lisa. Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy: For Patients, Their Families, and Interested Physicians. Malden, MA: Futura Media Services, 2001.
Parker, J.M., and Parker, P.M. The Official Patient's Sourcebook on Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. San Diego, CA: Icon Health Publications, 2002.
Parker, J.M., and Parker, P.M. The Official Patient's Sourcebook on Dilated Cardiomyopathy. San Diego, CA: Icon Health Publications, 2002.


Ommen, Steve R., and Nishimura, Rick A. "A Physician's Guide to the Treatment of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy." HeartViews 1(10): 393-401.


American Heart Association, National Center, 7272 Greenville Avenue, Dallas, TX 75231. Telephone: (800) 242-8721;
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association, P.O. Box 306 Hibernia NJ 07842. Telephone: (973) 983-7429;
Children's Cardiomyopathy Foundation, P.O. Box 547, Tenafly, New Jersey 07670. Telephone: (201) 227-8852;


Cleveland Clinic Heart Center. 〈〉.
National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, National Institutes of Health, NHLBI Health Information Center, P.O. Box 30105, Bethesda, MD 20824-0105. Telephone: (301) 592 8573;
Heart Center Online.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a general diagnostic term designating primary myocardial disease.
alcoholic cardiomyopathy a congestive cardiomyopathy resulting in cardiac enlargement and low cardiac output occurring in chronic alcoholics; the heart disease in beriberi (thiamine deficiency) is also associated with alcoholism.
congestive cardiomyopathy a syndrome characterized by cardiac enlargement, especially of the left ventricle, myocardial dysfunction, and congestive heart failure.
hypertrophic cardiomyopathy an increase in heart muscle weight, particularly of the left ventricle and often involving the interventricular septum; it may affect the flow of blood from an atrium into the ventricle or out from the ventricle. This type of cardiomyopathy is frequently associated with idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis. Called also asymmetrical septal hypertrophy.
hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy a form of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in which the location of the septal hypertrophy causes obstructive interference to left ventricular outflow. See also asymmetrical septal hypertrophy.
infiltrative cardiomyopathy myocardial disease resulting from deposition in the heart tissue of abnormal substances, as may occur in amyloidosis, hemochromatosis, and other disorders.
primary cardiomyopathy that in which the basic pathologic process involves the myocardium itself and not other cardiac structures; the condition is of unknown etiology and not part of a disease affecting other organs.
restrictive cardiomyopathy a form in which the ventricular walls are excessively rigid, impeding ventricular filling; it is marked by abnormal diastolic function but normal or nearly normal systolic function.
secondary cardiomyopathy any form that is due to another cardiovascular disorder or is a manifestation of a systemic disease such as sarcoidosis.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


Disease of the myocardium. As a disease classification, the term is used in several different senses, but is limited by the World Health Organization to: "Primary disease process of heart muscle in absence of a known underlying etiology" when referring to idiopathic cardiomyopathy.
Synonym(s): myocardiopathy
[cardio- + G. mys, muscle, + pathos, disease]
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


n. pl. cardiomyopa·thies
A disease or disorder of the heart muscle, especially of unknown or obscure cause.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


Cardiology A general term for a disease of the heart, defined by WHO as a primary disease process of heart muscle in absence of known underlying etiology. See Alcoholic cardiomyopathy, Beer drinkers cardiomyopathy, Dilated cardiomyopathy, Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, Idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, Ischemic cardiomyopathy, Peripartum cardiomyopathy, Restrictive cardiomyopathy, Secondary cardiomyopathy.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Disease of the myocardium; a primary disease of heart muscle in the absence of a known underlying etiology.
Synonym(s): myocardiopathy.
[cardio- + G. mys, muscle, + pathos, disease]
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


(kard?e-o-mi-op'a-the) [ cardio- + myopathy],


Any disease that affects the heart muscle, diminishing cardiac performance.

alcoholic cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy caused by years of heavy alcohol abuse. Affected patients have enlarged hearts and left ventricular failure. Abstinence from alcohol may halt or reverse the course of the illness in some people.

arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy

Abbreviation: ARVC
Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia.

congestive cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy associated with enlargement of the left ventricle of the heart and congestive heart failure.

constrictive cardiomyopathy

Restrictive cardiomyopathy.

eosinophilic cardiomyopathy

Löffler endocarditis.
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hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

Abbreviation: HCM
An autosomal dominant cardiomyopathy marked by excessive and disorganized growth of myofibrils, impaired filling of the heart (diastolic dysfunction), a reduction in the size of ventricular cavities, and, often, ventricular arrhythmias and sudden death. Examination of the heart by echocardiography or other modalities may show the enlargement of the heart to be most pronounced in the interventricular septum. Hypertrophy in that location may limit the flow of blood (and increase pressure gradients) from the left ventricle to the aorta. Abnormal anterior motion of the mitral valve during systole also may be found. These two findings are often designated on echocardiographic reports of patients with HCM by the abbreviation ASH-SAM (asymmetric septal hypertrophy–systolic anterior motion [of the mitral valve]). Other forms of HCM may affect only the cardiac apex or cause diffuse enlargement of the heart muscle. The mass of the left ventricle in HCM is > 500 g. See: illustration

Symptoms and Signs

Although patients may be asymptomatic for many years, they commonly report shortness of breath (particularly on exertion), fatigue, atypical chest pain (at rest and after meals), orthopnea, dizziness, and other symptoms of congestive heart failure after the heart muscle markedly enlarges. An S4 and a harsh crescendo-decrescendo systolic murmur, best heard at the left lower sternal border, may be present. Ventricular arrhythmias are common and may result in palpitations, syncope, or sudden death.


Drug therapies include beta blocking and calcium channel blocking drugs (such as verapamil) to slow heart rate, control arrhythmias, and reduce myocardial oxygen demand. Anticoagulants and antiarrhythmic agents are also occasionally used. For patients with marked enlargement of the ventricular septum and high outflow tract pressure gradients (> 50 mm Hg), surgical removal of the enlarged muscle or ablation often produces favorable improvements in exercise tolerance and breathing.

Patient care

Strenuous physical exercise should be discouraged because it may produce breathlessness, presyncope, or frank loss of consciousness. If applicable, the patient should be encouraged to lose weight, stop smoking, and limit alcohol intake. An implanted cardioverter/defibrillator (ICD) may be required. The patient should be advised to report symptoms of chest pain, prolonged dyspnea, or syncope promptly. First-degree relatives of those affected should be referred for evaluation.

idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy

Abbreviation: IDC
Cardiomyopathy of occult or uncertain cause, possibly due to viral infections, unrecognized toxic exposures, or a genetic predisposition, but not to ischemia, hypothyroidism, hypertension, valvular disease, or alcohol abuse.


General supportive therapy includes rest, weight control, abstinence from tobacco, and moderate exercise at a level that does not cause symptoms. A salt-restricted diet is recommended. Therapy includes the use of vasodilators, such as ACE inhibitors, and diuretics like furosemide. Anticoagulants are important to prevent thrombus formation. IDC is a principal indication for cardiac transplant.

cardiomyopathy of overload

Enlargement of heart muscle resulting from long-standing or severe hypertension or aortic stenosis. Like all other forms of cardiomyopathy, the end result is heart failure.

peripartum cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy occurring either in the last month of pregnancy or in the six months after delivery. Its cause is unknown, but it occurs more often in older and multiparous women.

primary cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy of unknown cause.

restrictive cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy associated with lack of flexibility of the ventricular walls. Common causes include amyloidosis, hemochromatosis, sarcoidosis, and other diseases in which the heart is infiltrated by foreign material or scarred.
Synonym: constrictive cardiomyopathy

secondary cardiomyopathy

Any cardiomyopathy in which the cause is either known or associated with a well-defined systemic disease. Included are cardiomyopathies associated with inflammation, toxic chemicals, metabolic abnormalities, and inherited muscle disorders.

stress-induced cardiomyopathy

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

tachycardia-induced cardiomyopathy

Cardiac remodeling and dysfunction that results from a chronically increased heart rate, usually a supraventricular arrhythmia. It is treated with medications such as beta blockers that slow the heart rate.

takotsubo cardiomyopathy

Reversible dysfunction of the left ventricle. It may be the cause of transient heart failure that occurs after exceptionally stressful events. The heart in such instances takes on a rounded shape with a narrow neck, resembling a traditional Japanese lobster trap (takotsubo). It is informally called broken-heart syndrome.
Synonym: apical ballooning syndrome; stress-induced cardiomyopathy; transient left ventricular apical ballooning
Medical Dictionary, © 2009 Farlex and Partners


1. A disease of heart muscle of unknown cause and classified into thickened (hypertrophic), ballooned (dilated) and unyielding (constrictive) cardiomyopathies.
2. Heart muscle damage from alcohol, vitamin deficiency, infections, athletic activity, anabolic steroids, autoimmune disease and sarcoidosis. The term is also sometimes applied to heart muscle damage from an inadequate coronary blood supply.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005


Disease of the myocardium.
[cardio- + G. mys, muscle, + pathos, disease]
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012

Patient discussion about cardiomyopathy

Q. I have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and an ICD. Is it possible to get breast implants with an ICD? I have no further symptoms: I workout and run 6 days a week, in good shape and only 27 years old.

A. Some medical equipment can damage your ICD If you are visiting your doctor , tell him or her that you have an ICD BEFORE they do any testing or treatment.i'm pretty sure they'll find a creative way to do the implant.any way- before doing any procedure- ask the cardiologist that handles you about it.

More discussions about cardiomyopathy
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