What Is Cardiomyopathy?

Illustration of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy is a disease of your heart muscle, describing a condition when the muscles can become stiff, thickened or enlarged. Left untreated, cardiomyopathy can worsen, interfering with the heart's electrical system and damaging its ability to supply blood to the body. The heart muscle may also be replaced with scar tissue, further complicating your health. Cardiomyopathy can lead to other heart disorders, including valve issues, arrhythmias and heart failure.

Types of Cardiomyopathy

There are four main types of cardiomyopathy:

  • Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy: One out of every 500 people has this type of cardiomyopathy, which occurs when the walls of the ventricles thicken, affecting the heart's ability to relax and fill with blood. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can affect people of any age. In young people and athletes, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).
  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy: This is the most common type of cardiomyopathy, although men aged 20-60 are more likely than women to develop this condition. This type of cardiomyopathy affects the ventricles and atria, often beginning when the muscle of the left ventricle thins out and stretches, causing the inside chamber to enlarge.
  • Arrythmogenic Right Ventricle Dysplasia: This more rare type of cardiomyopathy occurs when the muscle tissue in the right ventricle is replaced with scar tissue.
  • Restrictive Cardiomyopathy: Most often seen in older adults, this type of cardiomyopathy begins when the ventricles become stiff and rigid, often as a result of scar tissue replacing the heart's muscle.

What are the Symptoms of Cardiomyopathy?

It's possible you won't show any symptoms of cardiomyopathy until your disease progresses. Some people may never be symptomatic or need treatment, while others may experience a more rapid decline. You could suffer from any or all of the following:

  • Fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Trouble breathing, especially with physical exertion.
  • Swelling in your ankles, feet, legs, abdomen or veins in your neck.

Diagnosis of Cardiomyopathy

Some people may never need treatment for their condition. For others, medications and lifestyle changes may be all you need to help you control your cardiomyopathy.

If your cardiomyopathy is more advanced and you require an implantable device or surgery, know that Penn is a national leader in heart failure, heart surgery and heart transplantation. Penn Medicine's specialized cardiologists and surgeons offer medical treatments not available at other centers, and perform more heart transplants per year than all of the regional heart transplant centers combined.

When you choose Penn, you choose to work with a dedicated team of cardiologists and heart surgeons who continue to lead the field, advancing the science of cardiac care.

Treatment at Penn

Some people may never need treatment for their condition. For others, medications and lifestyle changes may be all you need to help you control your cardiomyopathy.

If your cardiomyopathy is more advanced and you require an implantable device or surgery, know that Penn is a national leader in heart failure, heart surgery and heart transplantation. Penn Medicine's specialized cardiologists and surgeons offer medical treatments not available at other centers, and perform more heart transplants per year than all of the regional heart transplant centers combined.

When you choose Penn, you choose to work with a dedicated team of cardiologists and heart surgeons who continue to lead the field, advancing the science of cardiac care.

Penn Programs & Services for Cardiomyopathy

Physician discussing with patient
Heart Failure

A national leader in the treatment of heart failure and one of the largest programs in the nation

Happy family at a picnic
Center for Inherited Cardiac Disease

Treating patients with a broad spectrum of inherited cardiac conditions

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