Cardiomyopathy is a term used to describe a disease of the heart muscle. The name means: CARDIO - heart, MYO - muscle, PATHY - disease.
Currently it is not known how many people in Australia have the condition, but a general estimate suggests that perhaps one in five hundred may be affected.
The main types of cardiomyopathy are:
- Dilated or 'enlarged' heart, the most common form
- Hypertrophic or 'thickened muscle'
- Arrhythmogenic right ventricular, a more unusual form associated with arrhythmias
- Restrictive or 'stiff' heart, the least common
- Ischaemic, medically induced
Warning symptoms or complaints include shortness of breath, fatigue and a feeling of lethargy, palpitations, fainting attacks and sometimes chest pains.
Cardiomyopathy cannot usually be completely reversed or 'cured'. However, it can be helped or controlled by treatments which, depending on symptoms, may include medications, pacemakers, implantable defibrillators and, in a small number of cases, surgery. In its most advanced stages, cardiomyopathy may be treated by heart transplantation with good long-term results.
It is important to note that although the condition does vary in severity, the majority of those diagnosed will be able to lead a relatively normal life.
Depending on the type of cardiomyopathy diagnosed, people may be asked by their doctor to provide details of any family history of heart disease, including instances of sudden death. It may be suggested that other family members be screened, even if they appear to be free of symptoms.
In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy there is a 50% chance of the condition passing from a parent to a child. Upon diagnosis, screening of close relatives is always recommended. There is no way of predicting how severe the condition may be in an affected individual. For this reason children in the family should be screened at regular intervals.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU EXPERIENCE SYMPTOMS
If you have concerns, arrange to see your GP as soon as possible and provide a comprehensive description of your symptoms - their nature, severity and frequency. As part of the initial examination, your GP may recommend a twelve-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) and an echocardiogram (ECHO) - an ultrasound scan of the heart. These are both non-invasive procedures.
WHEN CARDIOMYOPATHY IS DIAGNOSED
At this stage it is common for people to want to learn as much as possible about their condition. Many also feel the need to share their experiences with others who have found themselves in a similar situation. It was for these reasons that the CMAA Ltd. was founded in 1994 - to make available up-to-date information on cardiomyopathy and to offer mutual support when needed.