Cardiomyopathy describes a set of diseases that affect the heart muscle. Its main forms include:
- Dilated – The most common form of cardiomyopathy, this condition occurs when the left ventricle – the heart’s main pumping chamber – does not pump as strongly as it should. The result is an enlarged left ventricle that cannot pump effectively. Middle-aged men are most likely to experience dilated cardiomyopathy.
- Restrictive – This form results in the walls of the heart becoming stiff and less elastic, making it difficult for the heart to expand and pump effectively. It most commonly affects older people, although it can occur at any age.
- Hypertrophic – The walls of the heart in patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy become unusually thick, inhibiting the heart’s ability to properly pump blood. It can affect anyone at any age.
- Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia – This rare form of cardiomyopathy occurs when the muscle in the right ventricle is replaced with fibrous or fatty tissue, often leading to heart rhythm disorders. It most often occurs in teens and young adults.
The specific cause of cardiomyopathy is not yet clear, although most cases are understood to be either inherited or acquired (developed as a result of another medical condition or lifestyle factor). Individuals who have a family history of this condition or a personal history of any heart disorder are considered to be at a heightened risk, and should be particularly mindful of their heart health.
It is important to promptly consult with a physician if cardiomyopathy symptoms are experienced, as this condition can lead to heart failure if left untreated. Common symptoms may include breathlessness, chest pain, lightheadedness, and swelling of the abdomen, legs, or feet. Individuals experiencing severe difficulty breathing or chest pain that is present for more than a few minutes, or who have lost consciousness, should call 9-1-1.
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