Cardiomyopathy is a term that refers to several diseases of the heart muscle. There are many treatments and symptoms for this set of ailments. Generally cardiomyopathy is a condition where the heart becomes enlarged, thick or rigid. In serious cases, the body begins to replace heart muscle tissue with scar tissue.

As the disease worsens and the heart becomes weaker, the organ is unable to effectively circulate blood throughout the body or maintain its normal electrical rhythm. This can lead to congestive heart failure (CHF), irregular heart beat or heart valve disorders.

Many times, the cause of cardiomyopathy is not known. This is the case when the disease strikes children. It can either be inherited from a patient’s parents or acquired externally as a number of different diseases of the heart can develop into cardiomyopathy. In addition, diabetes and high blood pressure can trigger the disease as can severe obesity or long-term alcohol abuse.

In many cases, there are no outward symptoms of cardiomyopathy, especially in the early stages. As the disease worsens and the heart weakens, symptoms can mimic those of other cardiac ailments, such as shortness of breath and trouble breathing during physical exertion, dizziness, fatigue, light-headedness and fainting, and swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen and neck veins due to poor circulation. Other signs can include arrhythmia and heart murmurs.

A variety of tests and procedures can help confirm whether you have cardiomyopathy. These include:

  • discussion with your cardiologist about your medical and family history
  • general physical exam and blood tests
  • chest x-ray
  • electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG) or echocardiogram
  • exercise or chemical stress test
  • cardiac catheterization

The range of treatment options for cardiomyopathy is varied and depends on such factors as the patient's age, health, symptoms, severity and the presence of any complications.

In the mildest of cases, lifestyle and diet changes along with losing weight and quitting smoking can make a big difference. Medications can include those to lower blood pressure, slow your heart rate, stabilize the heartbeat rhythm, remove fluids, prevent clots and reduce swelling. Surgical treatments include installation of a pacemaker or other heart-rhythm device to control the heart rate, open-heart surgery or, as a last resort a heart transplant.

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