What is cardiomyopathy?

Dr. Douglas S. Jacoby, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Cardiomyopathy is a general term for a disease of the heart muscle.

This condition means that the heart muscle is not working normally. It can occur as a dilated, stretched out form, or as a hypertrophic (thickened) or restrictive form.

Some causes of cardiomyopathies run in families while some result from other problems, such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, fast heart rates, valvular problems, thyroid problems, HIV or pregnancy. Other causes can be due to toxins to the heart, such as alcohol. A heart failure specialist can help evaluate these different causes, and manage the heart to minimize problems from the cardiomyopathy.

Cardiomyopathy, or heart muscle disease, is a group of disorders that directly damages the heart muscle, impairing its ability to pump blood to other parts of the body.

Cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle becomes enlarged or rigid. This can lead to inadequate heart pumping or other problems. Cardiomyopathy has many causes, including family history of the disease, prior heart attacks and viral or bacterial infections.

A myopathy is, by definition, a disease of muscle. Cardiomyopathy then is a general term referring to heart muscle disease. It refers to a spectrum of disorders that result in an impairment the ability of the heart to pump blood to other parts of the body. Common forms of cardiomyopathy include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (where the heart makes too much muscle), ischemic cardiomyopathy (a consequence of prolonged lack of blood flow to the heart), post-partum cardiomyopathy (a poorly understood disease originating after pregnancy), and idiopathic cardiomyopathy (heart muscle dysfunction due to an unknown cause).

Cardiomyopathy refers to diseases that enlarge, weaken or stiffen the muscles in the walls of the heart. When these muscles do not work well, the heart cannot circulate blood through the body. That can lead to heart failure. Causes of cardiomyopathy include high blood pressure, diseases of the heart valves, heart attack and infections.

Dr. Bijoy K. Khandheria, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Cardiomyopathy occurs when narrowed blood vessels let less blood flow through the heart, causing heart muscle to become weak and enlarged. Symptoms include shortness of breath, ankle swelling and fatigue. It also occurs for other reasons such as longstanding, untreated high blood pressure and infection of the heart muscle.

Cardiomyopathy is a general term for a disease of the heart muscle. You may be told that your problem is idiopathic (the cause is not known), or your doctor may say you have dilated cardiomyopathy, which is the most common form. It refers to the heart stretching or becoming larger. Viruses, the effects of alcohol or other toxic agents or sometimes pregnancy can cause this.

Studies show that dilated cardiomyopathy tends to run in families. If the heart becomes strained, it will most often appear enlarged on a chest X-ray.

Some things can also get into the heart muscle (example: iron, amyloid [body protein] or a tumor). A stretched heart does not pump as well as it should. It is like a rubber band that has lost its snap.

The doctor may also say that you have restrictive or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which means that it is more difficult for the heart to fill. A chest X-ray may not show the problem. Other tests may be needed to find out what is going on with the heart and how best to treat it.

Dr. George C. Clinard, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Cardiomyopathy is any weakening or deformity of the heart muscle that causes a decreased force of pumping. This leads to less efficient circulation of blood through the lungs and the rest of the body.

Continue Learning about Heart Disease

Heart Disease Prevention Starts with a Good Night's Sleep
Heart Disease Prevention Starts with a Good Night's Sleep
You can't live without it and you love it when you get it. Good sleep (did you think we were talking about sex again?) is a vital key to living younge...
Read More
When can I return to everyday activities after angioplasty and stenting?
Recovery from angioplasty and stenting is typically brief and many patients are able to return to wo...
More Answers
7 Drug-Free Ways To Treat Heart Disease
7 Drug-Free Ways To Treat Heart Disease7 Drug-Free Ways To Treat Heart Disease7 Drug-Free Ways To Treat Heart Disease7 Drug-Free Ways To Treat Heart Disease
Medication isn't the only way to get your heart healthy again.
Start Slideshow
Is Low-Dose or Baby Aspirin Right for You?
Is Low-Dose or Baby Aspirin Right for You?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.