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Heart Disease Health Center

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Heart Disease and Restrictive Cardiomyopathy

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What Is Restrictive Cardiomyopathy?

Restrictive cardiomyopathy, the rarest form of cardiomyopathy, is a condition in which the walls of the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles) are abnormally rigid and lack the flexibility to expand as the ventricles fill with blood.

The pumping or systolic function of the ventricle may be normal but the diastolic function (the ability of the heart to fill with blood) is abnormal. Therefore, it is harder for the ventricles to fill with blood, and with time, the heart loses the ability to pump blood properly, leading to heart failure.

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What Are the Symptoms of Restrictive Cardiomyopathy?

Many people with restrictive cardiomyopathy 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 restrictive cardiomyopathy can occur at any age and may include:

  • Shortness of breath (at first with exercise; but over time it occurs at rest)
  • Fatigue (feeling overly tired)
  • Inability to exercise
  • Swelling of the legs and feet
  • Weight gain
  • Nausea, bloating, and poor appetite (related to fluid retention)
  • Palpitations (fluttering in the chest due to abnormal heart rhythms)

Less common symptoms of restrictive cardiomyopathy:

  • Fainting (usually caused by irregular heart rhythms or abnormal responses of the blood vessels during exercise)
  • Chest pain or pressure (occurs usually with exercise or physical activity but can also occur with rest or after meals)

What Causes Restrictive Cardiomyopathy?

Restrictive cardiomyopathy is not usually inherited and its cause is often unknown. Known causes of restrictive cardiomyopathy may include:

How Is Restrictive Cardiomyopathy Diagnosed?

The size of the heart may remain normal with restrictive cardiomyopathy. In some cases, restrictive cardiomyopathy may be confused with constrictive pericarditis, a condition in which the layers of the pericardium (the sac that surrounds the heart) become thickened, calcified, and stiff.

Restrictive cardiomyopathy is diagnosed based on medical history (your symptoms and family history), physical exam, and tests: such as blood tests, electrocardiogram, chest X-ray, echocardiogram, exercise stress test, cardiac catheterization, CT scan, and MRI.

A myocardial biopsy, or biopsy of the heart muscle, occasionally is done to determine the cause of cardiomyopathy. During a myocardial biopsy, a small tissue sample is taken from the heart and examined under a microscope to examine the cause of the symptoms.

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