Your health care provider is likely to perform a physical examination and ask questions about your personal and family medical history. You'll also be asked when your symptoms occur — for example, whether exercise triggers your symptoms. If your provider thinks you have cardiomyopathy, several tests may be done to confirm the diagnosis, including:
- Chest X-ray. An image of the heart will show whether it's enlarged.
- Echocardiogram. This test uses sound waves to create images of the heart, which show its size and its motions as it beats. This test checks the heart valves and helps determine the cause of symptoms.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG). In this noninvasive test, electrode patches are attached to the skin to measure electrical signals from the heart. An ECG can show disturbances in the electrical activity of the heart, which can detect irregular heart rhythms and areas of injury.
- Treadmill stress test. Heart rhythm, blood pressure and breathing are monitored while walking on a treadmill. This test can evaluate symptoms, determine exercise capacity and whether exercise triggers irregular heart rhythms.
Cardiac catheterization. A thin tube (catheter) is inserted into the groin and threaded through blood vessels to the heart. Pressure within the chambers of the heart can be measured to see how forcefully blood pumps through the heart. Dye can be injected through the catheter into blood vessels to make them more visible on X-rays (coronary angiogram). Cardiac catheterization can reveal blockages in blood vessels.
This test might also involve removal of a small tissue sample (biopsy) from the heart for laboratory analysis.
- Cardiac MRI. This test uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create images of the heart. A provider might order a cardiac MRI if the images from an echocardiogram aren't helpful in making a diagnosis.
- Cardiac CT scan. This involves lying on a table inside a doughnut-shaped machine. An X-ray tube inside the machine rotates around the body and collects images of the heart and chest to assess heart size and function and the heart valves.
Blood tests. Several blood tests might be done, including those to check kidney, thyroid and liver function and to measure iron levels.
One blood test can measure B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP), a protein produced in the heart. A blood level of BNP might rise during heart failure, a common complication of cardiomyopathy.
- Genetic testing or screening. Cardiomyopathy can be passed down through families (inherited). Ask your health care provider if genetic testing is right for you. Family screening or genetic testing might include first-degree relatives — parents, siblings and children.
The goals of cardiomyopathy treatment are to:
- Manage signs and symptoms
- Prevent the condition from worsening
- Reduce the risk of complications
The type of treatment depends on the type of cardiomyopathy and its severity.
Many different types of medications are used to treat cardiomyopathy. Medications for cardiomyopathy can help:
- Improve the heart's ability to pump blood
- Improve blood flow
- Lower blood pressure
- Slow heart rate
- Remove extra fluid from the body
- Prevent blood clots
Nonsurgical procedures used to treat cardiomyopathy or arrhythmia include:
- Septal ablation. A small portion of the thickened heart muscle is destroyed by injecting alcohol through a long, thin tube (catheter) into the artery supplying blood to that area. This allows blood to flow through the area.
- Radiofrequency ablation. To treat irregular heart rhythms, health care providers guide long, flexible tubes (catheters) through blood vessels to the heart. Electrodes at the catheter tips transmit energy to damage a small spot of heart tissue that is causing the irregular heart rhythm.
Surgery or other procedures
Several types of devices can be surgically implanted in the heart to improve its function and relieve symptoms, including:
- Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). This device monitors heart rhythm and delivers electric shocks when needed to control irregular heart rhythms. An ICD doesn't treat cardiomyopathy; rather it watches for and controls irregular rhythms, a serious complication of the condition.
- Ventricular assist device (VAD). This helps blood flow through the heart. A VAD usually is considered after less invasive approaches are unsuccessful. It can be used as a long-term treatment or as a short-term treatment while waiting for a heart transplant.
- Pacemaker. This small device placed under the skin in the chest or abdomen uses electrical impulses to control arrhythmias.
Types of surgery used to treat cardiomyopathy include:
- Septal myectomy. In this open-heart surgery, a surgeon removes part of the thickened heart muscle wall (septum) that separates the two bottom heart chambers (ventricles). Removing part of the heart muscle improves blood flow through the heart and reduces mitral valve regurgitation. Septal myectomy is used to treat hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
- Heart transplant. A heart transplant might be for people with end-stage heart failure for whom medications and other treatments no longer work.
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Lifestyle and home remedies
These lifestyle changes can help you manage cardiomyopathy:
- Quit smoking.
- Lose weight if you're overweight. Ask your health care provider what a healthy weight is for you.
- Get regular exercise after talking to your provider about the safest type and amount for you.
- Eat a healthy diet, including a variety of fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
- Use less salt (sodium). Aim for less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day.
- Avoid or drink less alcohol.
- Try to manage your stress.
- Get enough sleep.
- Take all your medications as prescribed.
- See your provider for regular follow-up appointments.
Preparing for your appointment
If you think you may have cardiomyopathy or are worried about your risk, make an appointment with your health care provider. He or she may refer you to a heart specialist (cardiologist).
Here's information to help you get ready for your appointment.
What you can do
Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. When you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet.
Make a list of:
- Your symptoms, including any that may seem unrelated to cardiomyopathy, and when they began
- Key personal information, including a family history of cardiomyopathy, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure or diabetes, and any major stresses or recent life changes
- All medications, vitamins or other supplements you take, including doses
- Questions to ask your provider
Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you're given.
For cardiomyopathy, some basic questions to ask your provider include:
- What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
- What are other possible causes?
- What tests do I need?
- What treatment options are available, and which do you recommend for me?
- How often should I be screened?
- Should I tell my family members to be screened for cardiomyopathy?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage these conditions together?
- Are there brochures or other printed material that I can have? What websites do you recommend?
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, including:
- Do you have symptoms all the time, or do they come and go?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?