What is Cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is a disorder of the heart muscle which leads to an enlarged and weakened heart. It makes it harder for the heart to pump blood around the body, which can cause an array of other problems. People with cardiomyopathy may experience chest pain, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and an irregular heartbeat.

Cardiomyopathy can be caused by a variety of factors including a genetic predisposition, viral infection, heavy alcohol use, exposure to toxins, or other conditions like diabetes. Treatment varies and depends on the underlying cause but often includes medications, lifestyle changes, and in some cases, a pacemaker or other medical device.

Types of Cardiomyopathy

There are three primary types of cardiomyopathy: Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), and Restrictive cardiomyopathy (RCM). Each have their own unique symptoms and treatments.

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM): This type affects the left ventricle, the main pumping chamber of the heart, causing it to become enlarged and less able to pump blood effectively. It is the most common type of cardiomyopathy and is usually caused by a virus or a genetic predisposition.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM): This type of cardiomyopathy is caused by an abnormal thickening of the heart muscle, making it harder for the heart to fill with blood. It is usually a genetic disorder, although it can also be triggered by other factors such as viral infection, high blood pressure, and certain drugs.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy (RCM): This type of cardiomyopathy is caused by stiffness in the heart muscle which restricts the heart's ability to fill with blood or to contract correctly. It is usually caused by a genetic disorder, although in some cases, it can be triggered by other factors such as chemotherapy or radiation.


The most common symptoms of cardiomyopathy include shortness of breath (especially during physical activity), fatigue, chest pain, an irregular heartbeat, swelling in the extremities (such as legs or ankles), and lightheadedness. If left untreated, these symptoms can worsen over time, leading to more severe problems such as heart failure or cardiac arrest.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Cardiomyopathy is usually diagnosed by physical exam, electrocardiogram, chest x-ray, echocardiogram, and other tests. Treatment of cardiomyopathy depends on its type and underlying causes. Common treatments include medication, lifestyle changes, and in some cases, medical devices like pacemakers.

Risk Factors

  • Family history of cardiomyopathy
  • Viral or bacterial infection
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Certain medical conditions (i.e. diabetes, thyroid disease, etc.)
  • High blood pressure
  • Certain medications

If you think you may be at risk for cardiomyopathy, it is important to speak to your doctor. There are steps you can take to reduce your risk and help protect your heart health. These include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and controlling your blood pressure.