What is cardiomyopathy?
This is a condition that causes the heart muscle to enlarge. Sometimes the outer heart muscle will also thicken. The result is a weakened heart which makes the organ work much harder to pump blood through the body. Heart failure is often the end result of this disease.
This is a difficult disease to notice because cardiomyopathy symptoms don't always appear on a regular basis and the condition often takes a fairly long time to develop. The exception to this rule would be viral cardiomyopathy.
This affliction can occur at any time with very little notice. Immediate medical treatment is necessary in severe cases. It can affect people of all ages. It is becoming increasingly clear that inflammation is a cause of this disease as well as others damaging the cardiovascular system.
In the most serious cases, the left ventricle is damaged to the point that a transplant is required. Newer technology allows for the use of a left ventricle assist device to be implanted in to the damaged heart muscle. The "LVAD" will help the heart pump blood until a suitable donor can be found.
In fact there is a new version called an "Impella LD" which can be placed in the body through a catheter. This non-invasive technology places the device in the left ventricle.
While uncommon, viral cardiomyopothy is dangerous. Being on guard against cold weather ailments including flu are a good way to avoid this condition.
There are several other versions.
Dilated cardiomyopathy, also called congestive is the most common and while it can affect anyone, is found more often in middle age or older men. A family history of heart disease is usually seen in these victims. As with the more sudden viral version, the left ventricle becomes enlarged and the heart has difficulty pumping blood in an effective manner.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is caused by a thickening of the walls in the pumping chamber of the heart. This can cause the actual size of that chamber to shrink, which reduces the effectiveness of the heart muscle to deliver adequate blood supply. Once again, this condition is possible at any age, but the hypertrophic variety is more severe when it strikes at an early age.
The restricted form is the least common and usually strikes people of older age. The causes are not certain, but other heart related maladies play a part in the development of this restricted version. It causes the heart chamber to become rigid and to lose elasticity. The heart cannot fully expand as it should, so the chamber doesn't fill up with enough blood between beats.
All of these specific forms of the overall condition lead to worse complications including of course a final heart failure. But blood clots are also formed inside the heart when it doesn't pump effectively. These can free up and be transported within your body through the blood stream. Blockages to the brain, heart or lungs can result, leading to stroke, heart attack or pulmonary embolism, in order.
The enlarged heart muscle caused by dilated cardiomyopathy often leads to valve issues in that organ. The mitral and tricuspid valve don't always close properly causing back flow of blood in to a chamber. Heart murmurs are a result.
All forms of the disease affect heart rhythms. Sometimes the rate is too slow, in other cases too fast. Either way, results can range between fainting all the way to sudden heart attack and death.
There is one more form of cardiomyopathy. It involves something most of us deal with in varying degrees.
Can a person actually die from a broken heart? The answer is "yes." I've included Dr. Chauncey Crandall's great book "Fix It" in our list of classic books which is located in the left margin of every page.. In this link he describes how sudden stress can immediately impact our heart function.
Some symptoms include, but are not limited to....
1.) Shortness of breath or overall difficulty in breathing, in particular during times of exertion.
2.) Swelling in the legs or feet.
3.) Irregular heartbeat.
4.) Chest pain
6.) Headache, dizziness
7.) Joint pain or body aches
8.) Fever, sore throat, diarrhea
There are various causes, including...
* high blood pressure
* kidney disease
* poor diet
* previous heart condition
* viral infections
Treatments vary according to the type and severity of the disease. Short of transplant as mentioned above, you could need any of the following options.
Beta blockers may be prescribed if it is necessary to slow down a speeding heart rate. This will help the recovery process.
Ace inhibitors help the heart become more efficient in the daily workload. A human heart pumps nearly five quarts of blood through a maze of vessels that would measure over 70,000 miles if laid out, end to end. And when working properly it performs this task every day, all day. The challenge arises when we fail to help it out. It doesn't need much help, but some would be good.
Diuretics work to flush out excess fluid. This helps the heart function better with every beat.
Cardiomyopathy is so often an end result of earlier issues within the cardiovascular system. We've presented pages about type 2 diabetes. And we've given some examples of the causes of high blood pressure. Kidney disease has also been mentioned in the pages about heart health.
Alcoholism goes right along with smoking. These self induced traumas need to be squarely placed on the shoulders of the person looking in the mirror. As with all lifestyle choices, the long range effects are far more involved than just the first thing that we face. One challenge builds on another.
Previous heart ailments can lead to cardiomyopathy. These earlier problems can often be traced to high blood pressure, inflammation or hypertension. Too many times this group is caused by lousy diet and little or no exercise. So once again, it falls back into our laps.
We can avoid many of the causes of America's number one killer, heart disease, by working backward to the first option. Better diet, better rest, better exercise and better knowledge. All four chambers of the image in the right hand margin of this page.