Cardiomyopathy is a condition in which the heart muscle has become abnormal without an apparent cause. There are four types of Cardiomyopathy: Hypertrophic (HCM), Dilated (DCM), Restrictive (RCM) and Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular (ARVC). For the purpose of this article, I will concentrate on one form: Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.
As a nurse, I am interested in this disorder primarily because my mom died as a result of this disease. There is no cure for this disease, however medications may help, others may have to have surgery to reduce symptoms, and still a few may qualify for a heart transplant if the situation is dire enough.
What is it? Hypetrophic Cardiomyopathy is a thickening of the heart muscle. The word “hypertrophy” means to thicken. A person with HCM can seem perfectly healthy. It is thought that the heart muscles thicken due to high blood pressure. Athletes can also present with this type of thickening to the heart muscle because of the increased blood flow to the heart. The heart muscle thickens because the cardiac muscle cells leave their normal pattern and clump together in bunches, which on a microscopic level would resemble a pile of leaves raked into a pile. This causes thickening of the heart muscle, which in turn makes the atria and ventricles smaller, and less able to pump blood effectively. Another complication that results in decreased blood flow is that the heart is less elastic due to the thickening. The thickening also disrupts the pacemaker of the heart, which in turn causes arrythmias which can be fatal.
What causes it? The cause of HCM is not known. The common belief is that this condition is inherited. In some cases this belief bears out to be fact, and in others there is no evidence of it being inherited, because no one in the family was ever diagnosed with the disease. However, with patients who do have this trait in their families, HCM is passed down from each generation.Hypertrophy, or thickening can occur in anyone. It can be present at birth, and is sometimes the cause of a stillbirth delivery of an infant. Whether in infancy or in adulthood HCM will eventually present with congestive heart failure and may be fatal. In many cases the patient may have had the condition since childhood and didn’t become symptomatic until later in life.
When a person becomes symptomatic they may start experiencing shortness of breath, sweating, and chest pain, which is known as angina. The pain may manifest with exertion and be relieved with rest. When symptoms are severe a person may have difficulty getting up to walk from one room to another. They also may experience extreme fatigue and even eating may tire them out.
Some patients may feel extra beats in their chests, which are known as palpitations. Palpitations are sometimes the cause of severe arrhythmias, so it is vital that you communicate this to your doctor if you experience them. People with HCM may also experience dizziness and even black out from time to time. These episodes may be due to the irregular heartbeat.
HCM is diagnosed with a cardiac rhythm test called an Electrocardiogram or ECG or EKG as it is commonly called, and also an echocardiogram, which takes moving pictures of the heart with sound waves.
At present there is no cure for any type of Cardiomyopathy. It can be treated to improve the symptoms that manifest in the condition. The treatments vary from individual to individual depending on the severity of the condition. Some people are treated with medications, others have to have surgery to replace the mitral valve with an artificial valve, and still others have to have a transplantation.
Work Cited: Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy web page