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Cardiomyopathy describes any disorder that affects the heart muscle, causing the heart to lose its ability to pump blood effectively. In some instances, the heart rhythm also becomes disturbed and leads to arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). There may be multiple causes of cardiomyopathy, including viral infections and certain medications. Often, the exact cause of the muscle disease is never found.

Cardiomyopathy differs from many other disorders of the heart in several ways:

  • Cardiomyopathy can, and often does, occur in the young.
  • The condition tends to be progressive and can worsen fairly quickly.
  • It may be associated with diseases involving other organs.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy is a leading cause for heart transplantation.

Non-Ischemic Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most frequent form of nonischemic cardiomyopathy. The cavity of the heart is enlarged and stretched, compromising the heart's ability to pump normally:

  • This occurs most often in adults ages 20 to 60 and more often in men than women, but has been diagnosed in people of all ages, including children.
  • Most patients eventually develop congestive heart failure.
  • Nonischemic cardiomyopathy can be caused by chronic, excessive consumption of alcohol and nutritional deficiencies associated with alcoholism.
  • It occasionally occurs as a complication of pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Other possible causes include: various infections (mostly viral, which lead to inflammation of the heart muscle, called myocarditis), illicit drugs, and (rarely) heredity. Sometimes medications used to treat a different medical condition can damage the heart and produce dilated cardiomyopathy. However, in most cases, a specific cause for the damage is never identified.

Ischemic Cardiomyopathy

Ischemic cardiomyopathy is a condition that results from lack of blood flow to the coronary arteries that provide blood and nutrients to heart muscle. This results in heart attacks that then weaken the heart muscle. If there is a major heart attack to a large territory of heart muscle, or if patients suffer repeated heart attacks in different areas of the heart that weaken it excessively, a condition can occur where the heart becomes too weak to perform its function, and can lead to congestive heart failure or death.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy occurs when the muscle of the left ventricle of the heart becomes thicker than normal, obstructing blood flow to the rest of the body. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can affect the heart's mitral valve, causing blood to leak backward through the valve.

  • This is a rare disease and in most cases is inherited.
  • It can affect men and women of all ages, and symptoms can appear in childhood or adulthood.
  • Symptoms include shortness of breath on exertion, dizziness, fainting, and angina pectoris.
  • Some patients experience cardiac arrhythmias, which may lead to sudden death
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