Cardiomyopathy Diagnosis and Treatment: What You Should Know
Cardiomyopathy impairs and weakens the heart muscles, hindering its ability to pump blood efficiently.
A medical professional diagnoses this condition through a physical evaluation and a series of imaging tests.
Treatment options for cardiomyopathy involve taking certain medications to manage your symptoms and, in advanced cases, surgical interventions.
Although preventing cardiomyopathy can be difficult, you can reduce your risk of developing this condition by adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle and getting regular checkups.
Receiving a cardiomyopathy diagnosis can be a daunting experience — especially if you don’t know much about the treatment processes or the journey ahead.
Although cardiomyopathy is a serious condition, proper diagnosis and management strategies can help you live a normal, healthy life.
This article will explain the recovery process and what to expect if you’ve been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy.
Continue reading to discover more about diagnosing, treating, and preventing cardiomyopathy to better manage your health.
What is Cardiomyopathy?
Cardiomyopathy is a condition that weakens the heart muscle, gradually reducing its ability to pump blood throughout the body.
If left untreated, this condition can lead to heart failure and other life-threatening complications.
Symptoms and causes of cardiomyopathy
The symptoms of cardiomyopathy may vary, depending on the type and severity of the condition. Typically, symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Swelling of the legs, ankles, and feet
- Irregular heartbeats
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting
Cardiomyopathy can be caused by various factors, including:
- Medical conditions like hypertension or heart damage
- Certain diseases
- Substance use
- Environmental influences
It's important to note that in some cases, the exact cause of cardiomyopathy isn't known. This is referred to as idiopathic cardiomyopathy.
How is Cardiomyopathy Diagnosed?
Diagnosing cardiomyopathy involves detailed evaluations, such as physical exams, imaging, and blood tests. Additional tests might be required for an accurate diagnosis.
The first step in diagnosing cardiomyopathy will take place during your doctor’s visit.
They will start by evaluating your medical history, asking about your symptoms, family history of heart disease, and any other conditions you might have.
Then, they will perform a physical examination. This includes checking for physical signs of heart disease, like fluid retention, irregular heartbeats, and murmurs.
Imaging and blood tests
Based on your physical evaluation, your doctor might refer you for imaging and blood tests to gain deeper insights into your heart's condition. These tests could include:
Chest X-rays: This imaging technique is used to view the size and shape of the heart to help identify any obvious abnormalities.
Echocardiogram: This is an ultrasound of the heart that provides detailed images of the heart's structure and function.
Electrocardiogram (EKG): This imaging procedure measures the electrical activity of the heart and can identify irregular heart rhythms.
Blood tests: These can check for markers of heart stress, kidney function, and other conditions that might affect the heart. Blood tests can also indicate signs of heart failure.
If required, your doctor might order additional tests to confirm your diagnosis and assess the severity of your condition, ensuring you receive the right treatment. Further testing may include:
Cardiac MRI: This imaging test offers clear images of the heart's structure and function, helping your doctor determine how severe the cardiomyopathy is.
Cardiac catheterization: This procedure involves measuring the pressures within the heart and examining the coronary arteries.
Myocardial biopsy: During a biopsy, a small sample of heart tissue is taken and examined under a microscope for specific diseases.
How your doctor will interpret your results
Understanding your results involves a thorough approach, where your doctor looks at all test outcomes together.
They'll combine your medical history, physical exam findings, and any test results to diagnose your condition.
A critical aspect of this process involves assessing the heart's function, specifically examining the size of the heart, the thickness of its muscle, and its pumping efficiency.
These factors are essential for determining the type of cardiomyopathy you might have, such as dilated, hypertrophic, or restrictive cardiomyopathy.
Then, the severity of your condition is carefully evaluated to determine the most suitable treatment plan.
This evaluation is not just about diagnosing cardiomyopathy but also involves ruling out other potential causes of your symptoms to ensure an accurate medical assessment.
What are the Cardiomyopathy Treatment Options?
Medications are usually the first-line treatment for most cases of cardiomyopathy. Commonly prescribed drugs that your doctor might suggest include:
Beta blockers: These medications can reduce heart rate and lower blood pressure, decreasing the heart's workload to help it pump blood more easily.
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors: ACE inhibitors can relax blood vessels and improve blood flow, easing the heart's pumping work.
Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs): These work similarly to ACE inhibitors and are usually recommended if other medications are not tolerated.
Diuretics: These drugs help to eliminate excess fluid in the body, reducing cardiomyopathy symptoms like swelling and shortness of breath.
Digitalis: This medication helps strengthen the heart's contractions and regulate rhythm disturbances to prevent irregular heartbeats that could disrupt blood flow.
Anticoagulants: These drugs are used to prevent blood clots, especially for individuals with dilated cardiomyopathy or arrhythmias.
In some cases — such as when cardiomyopathy is severe or advanced — surgical interventions may be necessary. This may include procedures such as:
Septal myectomy: This procedure, often used in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), involves removing part of the thickened heart muscle wall. Removing the excess tissue allows normal blood flow to be restored.
Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT): CRT is usually recommended for those with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) to enhance the heart’s pumping efficiency. It involves placing a special pacemaker in the heart's chambers to synchronize their contractions.
Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) surgery: An ICD is a device designed to prevent sudden cardiac death, especially for patients with arrhythmia. Once implanted, the ICD monitors the heart rhythm and delivers electric shocks to control abnormal heartbeats.
Heart transplant: A heart transplant is a high-risk procedure that is typically reserved for severe cases where other treatments have proven ineffective.
Lifestyle changes are often recommended alongside medication use and surgical procedures.
These adjustments can help to improve your quality of life while managing and treating cardiomyopathy.
They can also help reduce the risk of long-term complications from cardiomyopathy, such as life-threatening heart failure.
Common lifestyle changes your doctor may recommend include:
- Making dietary changes and following a low-sodium meal plan
- Limiting alcohol and caffeine
- Quitting smoking
- Getting more regular physical exercise
- Practicing stress management
Can You Prevent Cardiomyopathy?
Preventing cardiomyopathy can be challenging, especially if it’s been caused by genetic factors.
However, there are several steps you can take to reduce your risk and mitigate the severity of cardiomyopathy if it develops. These steps may involve:
- Managing risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Managing chronic conditions like obesity
- Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle
- Getting regular checkups
Genetic counseling and screenings are also recommended to assess your risk of developing conditions like cardiomyopathy.
This can help your doctor detect any mutations early on, which is essential for proper cardiomyopathy management and treatment.
Where Can You Learn More About Cardiomyopathy and Similar Conditions?
If you’re concerned about your heart health or want to know more about diagnosing and treating cardiomyopathy, LifeMD is here to help.
We can connect you to a team of medical professionals who can provide information and guidance on managing cardiomyopathy while avoiding further complications.
Make an appointment today to get started.
Social anxiety is a mental health condition that creates severe feelings of stress in group or public settings. Learn the best ways to manage social anxiety and alleviate symptoms.
Learn more about their relationship as well as steps you can take to lower your risk.
Over 365,000 people in the U.S. experience cardiac arrest each year. Learn about the symptoms and causes of cardiac arrest and how this condition is treated.
Cardiomyopathy is referred to as a “silent killer”. Learn more about this condition – including causes, symptoms, and management options – to help you take control of your heart health.
While atrial fibrillation can happen to anyone, those with existing heart conditions are more at risk. Learn more about atrial fibrillation, including its typical symptoms and causes.