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Cardiomyopathy refers to diseases of the heart muscle that make it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. It can lead to heart failure.

Regardless of the type of cardiomyopathy, WakeMed’s cardiologists and cardiac surgeons leverage the most innovative treatments available to reduce complications, and prevent cardiomyopathy from getting worse. We are home to the state’s premier heart program and have a long-standing history of providing expert heart care.

Types and Causes of Cardiomyopathy

The most common types of cardiomyopathy include:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy, which is the most common type and affects the heart's ventricles and atria. It’s inherited in up to one-third of people who have it. Other heart conditions, high blood pressure and diabetes can also lead to the condition.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, in which the walls of the left ventricle contract harder and become thicker than normal. It’s often caused by abnormal genes in the heart muscle.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy, which usually affects older adults, and occurs when the heart’s ventricles become rigid, which leads to reduced blood flow in the heart. This type can be caused by cancer treatments, as well as conditions including connective tissue disorders, hemochromatosis, amyloidosis and sarcoidosis.
  • Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia, a rare type that affects teens and young adults, in which the muscle tissue in the right ventricle dies and is replaced with scar tissue.

Symptoms of Cardiomyopathy

Early in cardiomyopathy, patients may experience no signs. As the disease progresses, though, symptoms can include:

  • Shortness of breath, either during exertion or at rest
  • Cough
  • Swelling of legs, ankles and feet
  • Bloating
  • Rapid or fluttering heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting

Generally, symptoms will get progressively worse if left untreated.

Diagnosing Cardiomyopathy

If we suspect cardiomyopathy, our doctors will take a detailed health history and perform a thorough physical exam, including listening to the heart and lungs. We may order diagnostic tests to confirm a diagnosis. These can include:

  • Chest X-ray, to show whether the heart is enlarged
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG), which is a noninvasive test that can show abnormal heart rhythms and activity
  • Echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to produce images of the heart and its motions
  • Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses radio waves to create images of the heart
  • Cardiac computed tomography (CT) scan, which takes X-ray images of the heart and chest

We may also take blood tests, which can check how well the kidney, thyroid, and liver are functioning.

Treating Cardiomyopathy

Treatment for cardiomyopathy varies depending on the severity of the condition. Mild cases can often be successfully treated with medications. These medications can improve how the heart functions, and keep blood clots from forming. Surgically implanted devices can also be placed in the heart to improve function. Types include:

  • Ventricular assist devices (VAD)
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICD)
  • Pacemakers

When surgery is needed, we can perform a septal myectomy. In this surgery, we remove part of the heart muscle, which can improve blood flow throughout the heart. Sometimes, when other treatments have proven unsuccessful, a heart transplant may be needed.

Make an Appointment

We welcome new patients. If you’d like to meet with one of WakeMed’s cardiology experts, please make an appointment by calling us at 919-350-9648.