Background information on cardiomyopathy

Below you'll find some introductory information about cardiomyopathy, and the different types of cardiomyopathy.

  • Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle (cardio = heart, myo = muscle, pathy = disease).
  • It isn’t a single condition, but a group of conditions called the ‘cardiomyopathies’.
  • It affects the muscle of the heart, and can affect its shape, or the size and thickness of the muscle walls. This reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body.
  • In medical terminology the cardiomyopathies are “defined by structural and functional abnormalities of the ventricular myocardium that are unexplained by flow-limiting coronary artery disease or abnormal loading conditions”. This means that the heart structure and how it works are affected, but which isn’t caused disease of the blood vessel supplying the heart, or conditions that put additional pressure on the heart (such as high blood pressure).
  • It can affect people of all ages.
  • There are several different types of cardiomyopathy, which vary in how they affect the heart.
  • Cardiomyopathy can be genetic, and can run in families (where more than one person in the family is affected). Although several members of a family may have the condition, how it affects them can be different from one to another. If someone’s cardiomyopathy is genetic (caused by a genetic mutation) their first degree relatives (parents, siblings and children) will be offered genetic screening to see if they have the same genetic condition. Read more about genetics.
  • The European Society of Cardiology (opens new window) gives guidance to healthcare professionals on genetic counselling, screening and testing for cardiomyopathy.
  • There are no definite figures for how many people have cardiomyopathy. This is because the numbers of people with the condition is not recorded, and some people may be living with the condition but not have any symptoms (and so they may not have a diagnosis). However, it is estimated that around 160,000 people in the UK have cardiomyopathy.

Different types of cardiomyopathy

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) - areas of heart muscle become thick and stiff, making it hard for the heart to pump. The thickening can affect how blood flows out of the heart. HCM is the most common inherited heart condition, and affects around 1 in 500 people or 130,000 people in the UK.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) - the heart’s left ventricle becomes enlarged (dilated) and the muscle wall becomes thinner and weaker and the heart is not able to pump as effectively. Studies suggest that around 1 in 2,500 people have DCM. DCM is the most common diagnosis in patients referred for heart transplants.
  • Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) - heart muscle cells are lost and replaced by fibrous scar tissue and fatty cells, causing the heart walls to become thin. It can affect the electrical activity of the heart. The number of people with ARVC is difficult to estimate, as it is hard to diagnose and published statistics vary.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy (RCM) - the heart’s ventricles become stiff and cannot contract properly. This reduces blood circulation through the heart. Restrictive cardiomyopathy affects no more than 5% of all people with cardiomyopathy.
  • Takotsubo cardiomyopathy - affects the left ventricle of the heart, causing it to enlarge and become weak. It may be brought on by extremely stressful events, and it is more common in women. It is thought to affect around 2,500 people in the UK each year, although most people recover.
  • Peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM) - a type of DCM that happens during the last part of, or in the first few months after, pregnancy.
  • Left ventricular non-compaction (LVNC) - the muscular wall of the left ventricle of the heart appears ‘spongy’, which affects its ability to pump, and its electrical activity. It is unclear whether it is a type of cardiomyopathy itself or is related to other types of cardiomyopathy.

Read more detailed information about cardiomyopathy.

© Cardiomyopathy UK. October 2017.