Cardiomyopathies

oPatientPlus articles are written by UK doctors and are based on research evidence, UK and European Guidelines. They are designed for health professionals to use, so you may find the language more technical than the condition leaflets.

Cardiomyopathy is defined as a 'myocardial disorder in which heart muscle is structurally and functionally abnormal without coronary artery disease, hypertension, valvular or congenital heart diseases'.[1] The degree of cardiac dysfunction ranges from lifelong symptomless forms to major health problems, such as progressive heart failure, arrhythmia, thromboembolism and sudden cardiac death.

  • Primary cardiomyopathies - idiopathic and not attributed to a specific cause.
  • Secondary cardiomyopathies - often associated with:
    • Chronic kidney disease, cirrhosis, obesity and extreme stress, which have all been shown to result in impaired left ventricular function.[2]
    • Multisystem diseases - eg, sarcoidosis, amyloidosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic sclerosis and polyarteritis nodosa.
    • Endocrine and metabolic - eg, diabetes, thyroid disease, acromegaly, haemochromatosis.
    • Drugs and chemicals - eg, cocaine abuse, alcohol abuse, some chemotherapy drugs.
    • Infection: American trypanosomiasis and some viral infections.
    • Nutritional: malnutrition, obesity, deficiencies - eg, vitamin B1, selenium, calcium and magnesium.
    • Specific cardiac abnormalities - eg, chronic uncontrolled tachycardia, hypertension, ischaemic heart disease, valvular dysfunction or abnormalities of the pericardium.
    • Genetic: familial forms of cardiomyopathy; cardiomyopathy is also associated with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.[3]
    • Peripartum cardiomyopathy develops between the last month of pregnancy and 5-6 months after delivery. Echocardiography demonstrates an idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy. There is high morbidity and mortality.[4]

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The four major types of cardiomyopathy are (see links for separate articles):

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy: the most common form; the left or both ventricles are dilated with impaired contraction. Causes include: ischaemic, alcoholic, toxic, thyroid disorders, valvular, familial/genetic and idiopathic.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: the second most common; estimated adult prevalence is 1:500, with left and/or right ventricular hypertrophy. Usually familial (autosomal dominant).
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy: rare; estimated prevalence between 1:1,000 and 1:5,000, with restrictive filling and reduced diastolic filling of one/both ventricles and normal or near-normal systolic function. Causes include: amyloidosis, endomyocardial fibrosis, and idiopathic.
  • Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC): a progressive genetic cardiomyopathy characterised by progressive fatty and fibrous replacement of ventricular myocardium. The cause is unknown; the familial form is usually autosomal dominant with incomplete penetrance but can be recessive.

Classifications have also included an unclassified group consisting of causes with no typical features of the above - eg, endocardial fibroelastosis, non-compacted myocardium, systolic dysfunction with minimal dilatation, mitochondrial diseases.

  • In contrast to coronary heart disease having a higher incidence in the elderly, cardiomyopathies can occur at younger ages. Therefore, cardiomyopathy should be suspected in any young person presenting with a heart failure, arrhythmias or thromboembolism.
  • Clinically overt hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common cause of sudden unexpected death in childhood.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy is rare in childhood and has a poor outcome once symptoms develop.[5]
  • A familial cause has been shown in 50% of patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, 35% with dilated, and 30-50% with arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy. Restrictive cardiomyopathy is usually not familial.
  • Blood tests: FBC, ESR, renal function tests, electrolytes, LFTs, cardiac enzymes and TFTs.
  • CXR.
  • ECG: a normal ECG is uncommon in any form of cardiomyopathy.
  • Transthoracic Doppler echocardiography: this can confirm the diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, help to distinguish between restrictive cardiomyopathy and constrictive pericarditis, exclude valvular heart disease, and assess the severity of ventricular dysfunction in dilated cardiomyopathies.
  • Brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) has a potential role as a test for ventricular dysfunction.
  • Non-invasive stress testing is recommended only for patients who have a high probability of underlying ischaemic heart disease, prior myocardial infarction, or extensive hibernating myocardium or for evaluation for possible heart transplantation.
  • Cardiac catheterisation can help in excluding coronary artery disease as the cause of the dilated cardiomyopathy and in distinguishing restrictive cardiomyopathy from constrictive pericarditis.
  • Right ventricular angiography is considered a very useful test to diagnose classic forms of ARVC and to evaluate right ventricular function.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging: this may help to distinguish between constrictive disease and restrictive cardiomyopathy.
  • Right ventricular endomyocardial biopsy is occasionally used to distinguish between myocarditis and idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy. A normal result does not rule out cardiomyopathy.
  • Treatment options are symptomatic and mainly directed towards treatment of heart failure and prevention of thromboembolism and sudden death.
  • Identification of patients with high risk for major arrhythmic events is important because implantable cardioverter defibrillators can prevent sudden death.
  • All patients with cardiomyopathy require a thorough cardiological assessment of functional capacity, cardiac function and risk of serious arrhythmia.
  • Surgical myectomy (or, alternatively, alcohol septal ablation) may be considered for relief of outflow obstruction and symptoms of heart failure.[6] 
  • Heart transplantation may be necessary in patients with refractory heart failure.

Further reading & references

  1. Elliott P, Andersson B, Arbustini E, et al; Classification of the cardiomyopathies: a position statement from the European Eur Heart J. 2008 Jan;29(2):270-6. Epub 2007 Oct 4.
  2. Huffman C, Wagman G, Fudim M, et al; Reversible cardiomyopathies--a review. Transplant Proc. 2010 Nov;42(9):3673-8.
  3. Townsend D, Yasuda S, Metzger J; Cardiomyopathy of Duchenne muscular dystrophy: pathogenesis and prospect of membrane sealants as a new therapeutic approach. Expert Rev Cardiovasc Ther. 2007 Jan;5(1):99-109.
  4. Sliwa K, Hilfiker-Kleiner D, Petrie MC, et al; Current state of knowledge on aetiology, diagnosis, management, and therapy of Eur J Heart Fail. 2010 Aug;12(8):767-78.
  5. Denfield SW, Webber SA; Restrictive cardiomyopathy in childhood. Heart Fail Clin. 2010 Oct;6(4):445-52, viii.
  6. Maron BJ, Maron MS; Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Lancet. 2013 Jan 19;381(9862):242-55. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60397-3. Epub 2012 Aug 6.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Dr Colin Tidy
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Hannah Gronow
Document ID:
1913 (v24)
Last Checked:
20/06/2014
Next Review:
19/06/2019