Heart disease, also called coronary artery disease, is a progressive disease of the heart muscle or myocardium. It occurs through narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart.
In most cases, the heart muscle weakens and is unable to pump blood to the rest of the body as it should. According to our cardiology specialists, there are many different types of cardiomyopathies caused by a variety of factors, from coronary heart disease to certain medications. All of these factors can lead to irregular heartbeats, heart failure, or other complications.
Below, in Clínica Internacional, we explain a little more about this dangerous condition that usually affects many people around the world.
Who is at risk for cardiomyopathy?
Cardiomyopathy can affect people of all ages; however, the exact causes of this disease have not yet been defined.
Major risk factors include the following:
- Family history
- Genetic conditions
- Prolonged and high blood pressure
- Tissues damaged by previous heart attacks
- Rapid heart rate
- Heart valve problems
- Metabolic disorders, such as obesity, thyroid, or diabetes
- Lack of essential vitamins and minerals, such as thiamine (vitamin B-1)
- Complications during pregnancy
- Drinking too much alcohol for many years
- Using cocaine, amphetamines, or anabolic steroids
- The use of chemotherapy drugs and radiation to treat cancer
- Certain infections that have damaged the heart and caused cardiomyopathy
- Disorders of connective tissue and abnormal protein buildup
During the early stages of heart disease, people often do not experience symptoms. In more advanced cases, the symptoms of all types of cardiomyopathy tend to be similar: the heart cannot adequately pump blood to the tissues and organs of the body. As the condition progresses, signs and symptoms begin to appear. Some of the symptoms include
- General weakness and fatigue
- Chest pain
- Severe heart palpitations or irregular heartbeats
- Cough when lying down
- Swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet
- Shortness of breath, especially when exercising
- Dizziness and fainting
- Swelling of the abdomen due to fluid accumulation
Heart disease can trigger other heart conditions. These may be:
- Heart failure: Heart failure is a condition in which the muscles of the heart weaken. The heart becomes unable to pump enough blood to the whole body, and people become more likely to have a life-threatening cardiac arrest.
- Blood clots: Because heart disease prevents the heart from pumping normally, blood clots form in the heart. If these clots are pumped outside and enter the bloodstream, they can block the flow of blood to other important organs.
- Heart valve problems: Because people with heart disease have a larger-than-normal heart, the valves do not close properly, leading to a backward flow of blood.
- Cardiac arrest and sudden death: Heart disease causes an abnormal heart rhythm. Some of these are too slow to keep blood flowing through the heart; others are too fast to allow the heart to beat normally. In both cases, abnormal heart rhythms can lead to fainting or sudden death.
What are the types of cardiomyopathy?
There are usually four types of heart disease.
- Dilated cardiomyopathy: The most common form, cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle is too weak to pump blood efficiently. It is also called an enlarged heart and you can inherit or get it from coronary artery disease.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is thought to be genetic. It occurs when the walls of the heart thicken and prevent blood from flowing. It is a fairly common type of cardiomyopathy. It can also be caused by high blood pressure, diabetes, or thyroid disease.
- Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia: It is a very rare form of cardiomyopathy, but it is the leading cause of sudden death in young athletes. In this type of genetic cardiomyopathy, extra fat and fibrous tissue replace the muscle of the right ventricle. This causes abnormal heart rhythms.
- Restrictive cardiomyopathy: Restrictive cardiomyopathy is the least common form. It occurs when the ventricles become stiff and cannot relax enough to fill with blood. Scarring of the heart, which often occurs after a heart transplant, may be a cause. It can also occur as a result of different heart diseases.
Treatment varies depending on the damage to the patient’s heart due to cardiomyopathy and the resulting symptoms.
Some people may not need treatment until symptoms appear. If the patient begins to show symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain, he or she may need to make some lifestyle adjustments or start taking a series of medications.
Heart disease cannot be reversed or cured, but it can be controlled with some of the following options:
- Pursuing a healthy lifestyle that benefits the heart. For example, maintain a healthy weight, have a special diet, limit caffeine intake, get enough sleep, quit smoking, etc.
- Taking medications to treat high blood pressure, which prevent water retention, maintain the heart rate at a normal rate, reduce inflammation, and control the formation of blood clots.
- Surgically implanted devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators.
- Heart transplantation, considered a last resort.
The goal of treatment is to help your heart be as efficient as possible and prevent further damage and loss of function.
One of the biggest challenges is following a regular exercise program. Exercise can be very strenuous for someone with a damaged heart.
However, exercise is extremely important for maintaining a healthy weight and prolonging heart function. It’s important to talk to your cardiologist about what types of exercise you can do based on the type of heart disease you have. Most won’t be as demanding, but they will keep you moving every day.
In Clínica Internacional we have the specialty of Cardiology, where you can treat different problems of the heart and circulatory system. If you would like to make an appointment, you can do so through our Online Appointments section.