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Cardiomyopathy is a general term for diseases of the heart muscle. It is when the walls of the heart chambers have become stretched, thickened or stiff, affecting the heart's ability to pump blood around the body.
Some types of cardiomyopathy are inherited and are seen in children and younger people.
This page explains the four main types of cardiomyopathy:
In dilated cardiomyopathy the muscle walls of the heart have become stretched and thin, so they cannot contract (squeeze) properly to pump blood around the body.
If you have dilated cardiomyopathy, you're at greater risk of heart failure, where the heart fails to pump enough blood around the body at the right pressure.
Heart failure typically causes shortness of breath, extreme tiredness and ankle swelling. Learn more about the symptoms of heart failure.
There's also a risk of heart valve problems, an irregular heartbeat and blood clots. You will need to have regular appointments with your doctor so the disease can be monitored.
Dilated cardiomyopathy can affect both children and adults.
The heart muscle can become stretched if you have an unhealthy lifestyle or an underlying medical condition, or both. The following can all play a role in the disease:
But for many people, the cause is unknown.
In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle cells have enlarged and the walls of the heart chambers thicken.
The chambers are reduced in size so they cannot hold much blood, and the walls cannot relax properly and may stiffen.
Most people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy will be able to live a full, normal life. Some people don't even have symptoms and don't need treatment.
But that doesn't mean the condition cannot be serious. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common cause of sudden unexpected death in childhood and in young athletes.
The main heart chambers can become stiff, leading to back pressure on the smaller collecting chambers. This can sometimes worsen the symptoms of heart failure and lead to abnormal heart rhythms (atrial fibrillation).
Blood flow from the heart may become reduced or restricted (known as obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy).
Also, the mitral heart valve can become leaky, causing blood to leak backwards. Read more about mitral regurgitation.
These heart changes can cause dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath and temporary loss of consciousness.
You'll also be at greater risk of developing endocarditis (a heart infection).
If you have severe hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, you'll need to see your doctor regularly so your condition can be monitored.
Your doctor will advise about the level and amount of exercise you can do and sensible lifestyle changes to make.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is thought to affect 1 in 500 people in the UK. Most people will have inherited the disease from their parents.
Read more about how genetic conditions are inherited.
Restrictive cardiomyopathy is rare and mostly affects older adults. The walls of the main heart chambers become stiffened and rigid and cannot relax properly after contracting. This means the heart cannot fill up properly with blood.
It results in reduced blood flow from the heart and can lead to symptoms of heart failure, such as breathlessness, tiredness and ankle swelling, as well as heart rhythm problems.
In many cases the cause is unknown, although sometimes it can be inherited.
In arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), the proteins that normally hold the heart muscle cells together are abnormal. Muscle cells can die and the dead muscle tissue is replaced with fatty and fibrous tissue.
The walls of the main heart chambers become thin and stretched, and cannot pump blood around the body properly.
People with ARVC typically have heart rhythm problems. Reduced blood flow from the heart can also lead to symptoms of heart failure.
ARVC is an uncommon inherited condition caused by a mutation (change) in one or more genes. It can affect teenagers or young adults and has been the reason for some sudden unexplained deaths in young athletes.
Some cases of cardiomyopathy can be diagnosed after various heart scans and tests, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG) and an echocardiogram.
Cardiomyopathy that runs in the family can be diagnosed after a genetic test. If you've been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, you may be advised to have a genetic test to identify the mutation (faulty gene) that caused this.
Your relatives can then be tested for the same mutation and, if they have it, their condition can be monitored and managed early.
There's no cure for cardiomyopathy, but the treatments described below are usually effective at controlling symptoms and preventing complications.
Not everyone with cardiomyopathy will need treatment. Some people only have a mild form of the disease that they can control after making a few lifestyle changes.
If the cause for your cardiomyopathy isn't genetic, it should generally help to:
Medication may be needed to control blood pressure, correct an abnormal heart rhythm, remove excess fluid or prevent blood clots.
In some people with obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the septum (the wall dividing the left and right side of the heart) is thickened and bulges into the main heart chamber. They may need to have either:
Those with heart rhythm problems may need to have a pacemaker, or a similar device, implanted to control their abnormal heart rhythm. Read more about having a pacemaker fitted.
As a last resort, a heart transplant may be necessary.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.