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Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy


Topic Overview

Illustration of the heart

What is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy?

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (say "hy-per-TROH-fik kar-dee-oh-my-AWP-uh-thee") happens when the heart muscle grows too thick, so the heart gets bigger and its chambersClick here to see an illustration. get smaller. This may result in:

  • No symptoms or few symptoms. Many people have no symptoms and live a normal life with few problems.
  • The heart not getting enough blood and oxygen, which can cause chest pain.
  • A fast, slow, or uneven heartbeat (arrhythmia). In rare cases, this can cause sudden death.
  • The heart not pumping blood well or not relaxing between beats as it normally does. In rare cases, this can lead to heart failure.

See a picture of a normal heart and a heart with hypertrophic cardiomyopathyClick here to see an illustration..

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common genetic heart disease. This means it runs in families. About 1 out of 500 adults have this condition. It often starts early in life, from the teens through the mid-30s.1

It cannot be cured, but you can treat the symptoms.

What causes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy?

Certain genes cause the heart to grow more than it should. If you have family members with the disease, you are more likely to get it.

What are the symptoms?

If you have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, you may:

  • Have no symptoms.
  • Feel tired and short of breath when you are active.
  • Feel dizzy or faint, often after you have been active.
  • Feel like your heart is pounding, racing, or beating unevenly (palpitations).
  • Have chest pain (angina). You may have a heavy, tight feeling in your chest. Chest pain is often brought on by exercise, when the heart has to work harder.

Call your doctor if:

  • You have a rapid or irregular heartbeat or fainting spells. You may have an arrhythmia, which makes sudden death more likely. People with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy are at a higher risk for sudden death than other people and can die at a young age.
  • You have symptoms that might be caused by heart failure, such as shortness of breath, being very tired, or swelling in your legs or ankles.

How is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about any health problems you've had and about any family history of heart disease or early and sudden death. Your doctor will do a physical exam. You may need tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), chest X-ray, or echocardiogram.

Your doctor may refer you to a doctor who specializes in heart problems (cardiologist). Based on your symptoms, past health, and family history, the specialist can assess your risk for sudden death. People who are at high risk will need regular checkups.

If your parents or any brothers or sisters have the disease or died suddenly at a young age, you are at risk. Talk to your doctor about getting tests to check for the disease.

How is it treated?

Many people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy don't need treatment. Treatment depends on your symptoms and whether you have developed heart failure or abnormal heart rhythms.

  • You may take medicines to treat symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pain.
  • An arrhythmia such as atrial fibrillation is treated with medicines to control the heart rate and rhythm and to prevent blood clots. Or you may get cardioversion, an electrical shock to return the heart to its normal rhythm.
  • Heart failure is treated with medicines and lifestyle changes, such as eating less salt. Surgery also can be an option.

If your doctor feels you are at high risk for sudden death from an arrhythmia, you may need an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). An ICD is a small device like a pacemaker. It treats dangerous heart rhythms.

What else can you do for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy?

Many adults with this disease have full and long lives. You can help yourself by not smoking and by eating healthy foods.

Avoid strenuous activity and intense exercise, because they could lead to sudden death. Talk with your doctor about activity levels that are right for you.

Also talk to your doctor about how often you need checkups.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about hypertrophic cardiomyopathy:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Living with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy:

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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