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Cardiomyopathy- Weakened Heart Muscle 

Introduction
The prefix "cardio" means heart. The word "myopathy" means damaged muscle. Our heart is actually an organ made of muscle. Cardiomyopathy is actually an abnormality of the muscle of the heart.

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Anatomy
The heart is the core of the cardiovascular system.  Your cardiovascular system consists of your heart and the blood vessels that carry blood throughout your body.  Your heart is located to the left of the middle of your chest.  It is a large muscle about the size of your fist.  It works as a pump.  The blood carries nutrients and oxygen that your cells need for energy.  It also carries waste products away.
 
Your heart is divided into four sections called chambers.  The chambers are separated by the septum, a thick wall.  The two top chambers are called atria, and they receive blood coming into the heart.  The two bottom chambers are called ventricles, and they send blood out from the heart.
 
Your heart contains a left and right pumping system.  The left-sided pumping system consists of the left atrium and the left ventricle.  Your left atrium receives blood that contains oxygen, which comes from your lungs.  Whenever you inhale, your lungs move oxygen into your blood.  The oxygenated blood moves from the left atrium to the left ventricle.  The left ventricle sends the oxygenated blood out from your heart to circulate throughout your body.
 
The heart’s right-sided pumping system consists of the right atrium and the right ventricle.  Your right atrium receives deoxygenated blood, blood that has circulated throughout your body and no longer contains high levels of oxygen.  The deoxygenated blood moves from the right atrium to the right ventricle.  The right ventricle sends the blood to the lungs where it receives oxygen when you breathe.
 
As the blood travels through the heart chambers, four valves keep the blood from back flowing.  The mitral valve and the tricuspid valve regulate blood flow from the atria to the ventricles.  The aortic valve and the pulmonary valve control blood as it leaves the ventricles.
 
The heart has several large arteries and veins connected to it that branch out and become smaller as they travel throughout your body.  Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood away from your heart.  Veins are vessels that carry blood from your body and lungs back to your heart.

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Causes
Cardiomyopathy may occur for several reasons, including viral infections, heart attack, alcoholism, severe high blood pressure, heart structure abnormalities, and congenital heart defects.  Nutritional deficiencies and certain medical conditions, such as lupus, celiac disease, and end-stage kidney disease can lead to cardiomyopathy.
 
There are three specific types of cardiomyopathy:  Dilated cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and restrictive cardiomyopathy.  Dilated cardiomyopathy is characterized by an enlarged and poorly functioning left ventricle.  The right and left heart muscles are different sizes in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  With restrictive cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle does not relax between heartbeats and is not able to fill with enough blood.

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Symptoms
Cardiomyopathy can cause many symptoms.  You may have shortness of breath, which may become worse when you lay down flat.  At night, you may wake up with a sudden shortness of breath.  You may experience angina (chest pain.)  You may feel your heart beating in your chest.  You may feel a sharp pain or pressure in the middle of your chest.  You may feel tired, faint, light headed, or dizzy.  Your ankles, legs, or abdomen may swell.  You may experience high blood pressure, coughing, and a loss of appetite.  You may need to urinate more at night, and may urinate less during the day.  It may be difficult to remain alert or hard to concentrate.  Your body may feel deconditioned or weaker overall.

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Diagnosis
A doctor can diagnose a cardiomyopathy after reviewing your medical history and conducting a physical examination and some tests.  Your blood pressure will be checked, and your heart and lungs examined with a stethoscope.  Blood tests may be performed to assess the condition of your heart.
 
Your doctor may use cardiovascular tests to check for decreased heart function and heart enlargement.  A chest X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, or computed tomography (CT) scan may be used to create an image of your heart.  An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce an image of your heart on a monitor.  An electrocardiogram (ECG) is used to record your heart’s electrical activity and detect abnormal heart rhythms.  Coronary angiography may be done with a heart catheterization.  Heart catheterization involves inserting a long narrow tube through a blood vessel and into the heart to see how the heart and coronary arteries are working.  A dye and X-ray are used to show images of the heart and coronary arteries.

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Treatment
Treatment for cardiomyopathy depends on the type and severity of your condition.  Cardiomyopathy may be treated with dietary changes and medications.  Individuals with a severely weakened heart may need a pacemaker or surgery to sustain life until a donor heart for transplantation is available.

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Am I at Risk
Cardiomyopathy may occur for several reasons.  People with a history of heart attacks, severe and uncontrolled high blood pressure, or alcoholism are at risk for cardiomyopathy.  Cardiomyopathy may be an inherited condition that runs in families.  Infections, nutritional deficiencies, systemic lupus erythematosus, celiac disease, and end-stage kidney disease may increase the risk for developing cardiomyopathy.

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Complications
Cardiomyopathy is a long-term condition that can become worse very quickly.  Cardiomyopathy can lead to irregular heartbeats, heart failure, and death.  If you experience chest pain that does not go away or symptoms of heart failure, you should call an ambulance.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.