Cardiomyopathy is a general term for diseases of the heart muscle that occurs when the walls of the heart chambers stretch, thicken and affect the heart's ability to pump blood around the body. This can consequently lead to heart failure. The main types of cardiomyopathy include dilated, hypertrophic and restrictive cardiomyopathy. The types of cardiomyopathy include:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy, when the pumping ability of the left ventricle becomes enlarged, less forceful and cannot effectively pump blood out of the heart.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which involves abnormal thickening of the heart muscle that can make it harder for the heart to pump blood.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy, when the heart muscle becomes rigid and less elastic, meaning the heart can't properly expand and fill with blood between heartbeats.


In the early stages, people with cardiomyopathy may not even have any signs and symptoms. The first signs and symptoms usually appear as the condition advances. Regardless of the type of cardiomyopathy that the patient has, they may include:

  • Breathlessness;
  • Swelling of the legs, ankles and feet;
  • Bloating of the abdomen;
  • Coughing while lying down;
  • Fatigue;
  • Irregular heartbeats;
  • Chest pain;
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting.


Cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle becomes stretched if the patient has an unhealthy lifestyle, an underlying medical condition, or both. In some people, however, doctors are able to identify some contributing factors. Possible causes of cardiomyopathy include:

  • Long-term and uncontrolled high blood pressure;
  • An unhealthy lifestyle (such as nutritional deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals, heavy drinking and recreational drug use)
  • Metabolic disorders (such as obesity, thyroid disease or diabetes);
  • A viral infection that causes inflammation of the heart muscle;  
  • Heart tissue damage from a previous heart attack;
  • Chronic rapid heart rate;
  • Heart valve problems;
  • A disease of the body tissues or vessels (such as:  sarcoidosis, amyloidosis, lupus, polyarteritis nodosa, vasculitis or muscular dystrophy);
  • A complication of pregnancy;
  • Drinking too much alcohol over many years;
  • Use of cocaine, amphetamines or anabolic steroids;
  • Use of some chemotherapy drugs and radiation to treat cancer;
  • Certain infections, which may injure the heart and trigger cardiomyopathy;
  • Connective tissue disorders.


Risk Factors

There are a number of risk factors that can increase the risk of cardiomyopathy, including:

  • Family history;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Conditions that affect the heart;
  • Obesity;
  • Alcoholism;
  • Illicit drug use;
  • Cancer treatments;
  • Diabetes;
  • Thyroid disorders;
  • Hemochromatosis;
  • Diseases that affect the heart. 



Having cardiomyopathy may lead to other heart conditions, including:

  • Heart failure;
  • Blood clots
  • Valve problems;
  • Cardiac arrest and sudden death.


In many cases, the patient cannot prevent cardiomyopathy, but they can help reduce the chance of cardiomyopathy, such as:

  • Avoiding the use of alcohol or cocaine;
  • Controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes;
  • Eating a healthy diet;
  • Getting regular exercise;
  • Getting enough sleep;
  • Reducing the stress.