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Heart Disease and Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

What Is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy?

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is associated with thickening of the heart muscle, most commonly at the septum between the ventricles, below the aortic valve. This leads to stiffening of the walls of the heart and abnormal aortic and mitral heart valve function, both of which may impede normal blood flow out of the heart.

What Are the Symptoms of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy?

Many people with HCM have no symptoms or only minor symptoms, and live a normal life. Other people develop symptoms, which progress and worsen as heart function worsens.

Symptoms of HCM can occur at any age and may include:

  • Chest painor pressure (occurs usually with exercise or physical activity, but can also occur with rest or after meals)
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea), especially with exertion
  • Fatigue (feeling overly tired)
  • Fainting (caused by irregular heart rhythms, abnormal responses of the blood vessels during exercise, or no cause may be found)
  • Palpitations (fluttering in the chest) due to abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), such as atrial fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia
  • Sudden death (occurs in a small number of patients with HCM)

What Causes Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy?

HCM can run in families, but the condition may also be acquired as a part of aging or high blood pressure. In other instances, the cause is unknown.

How Is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Diagnosed?

HCM is diagnosed based on medical history (your symptoms and family history), a physical exam, and echocardiogram results. Additional tests may include blood tests, electrocardiogram, chest X-ray, exercise stress test, cardiac catheterization, CT scan, and MRI.

How Is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Treated?

Treatment of HCM depends on whether there is narrowing in the path that blood takes to leave the heart (called the outflow tract); how the heart is functioning; and if arrhythmias are present. Treatment is aimed at preventing symptoms and complications and includes risk identification and regular follow-up, lifestyle changes, medications, and procedures as needed.

What Lifestyle Changes Are Recommended to Treat Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy?

  • Diet. Drinking at least six to eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day is important, unless fluids are restricted. In hot weather, you should increase your fluid intake. Fluid and salt restrictions may be necessary for some patients if heart failure symptoms are present. Ask your doctor about specific fluid and dietary guidelines, including information about alcoholic beverages and caffeinated products.
  • Exercise. Your doctor will tell you if you may exercise or not. Most people with cardiomyopathy are able to do non-competitive aerobic exercise. However, your doctor may ask you not to exercise, based on your symptoms and the severity of your disease. Heavy weight lifting is not recommended.
  • Regular follow-up visits. Patients with HCM should have an annual follow-up visit with their cardiologist to monitor their condition. Follow-up appointments may be more frequent when HCM is first diagnosed.
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