Heart disease is a multi-faceted diagnosis that can involve the arteries, valves, the heart’s electrical system, or the actual muscle of the heart. Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the muscle of the heart, in which the heart muscle becomes weak and the heart may enlarge. If the condition becomes severe, then the heart cannot pump blood properly to the rest of the body and heart failure can develop.
Signs of heart failure include shortness of breath from fluid backing up into the lungs, and swelling of the ankles. Cardiomyopathy can be an inherited condition or it can be caused by another disease process. The diseases that can lead to a cardiomyopathy include coronary artery disease and heart attacks, viral infections, untreated high blood pressure, and heavy alcohol use.
When there is a concern about the possibility of cardiomyopathy in a patient, the cardiologist will order a test called an echocardiogram. An echocardiogram is a sound wave test of the heart which accurately shows the strength of the heart muscle, size of the heart, and the functioning of the heart valves. The overall strength of the heart muscle is reported out in a number called the Ejection Fraction, which is the percentage of blood the heart ejects with every beat. A normal ejection fraction is 50-70%.
The mainstay of treatment for a cardiomyopathy is prescription medication. There are medications to help strengthen the heart and diuretics to control build-up of fluids. If the cardiomyopathy is severe, then an implantable medical device called a defibrillator may be needed. An implanted defibrillator controls any dangerous rapid heart rhythms that can develop in patients with a significant cardiomyopathy.
Other important issues in treatment include early detection, especially if there is a family history of cardiomyopathy, and a healthy lifestyle. In the event that a cardiomyopathy worsens, despite treatment, a patient could be helped with the installation of an artificial heart pump assist device or heart transplantation.