Conditions Treated



Basics of Cardiomyopathy

The word “cardiomyopathy” refers to diseases of the heart muscle that have many causes, signs and symptoms, and treatments. The heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick or rigid in cardiomyopathy, making it impossible for the heart to pump blood effectively. For some children, the heart rhythm becomes disturbed, leading to arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). A variety of factors can cause cardiomyopathy, including viral infections and certain medications. Sometimes its exact cause is never found.

Cardiomyopathy differs from many other heart disorders in several ways, including:

  • Cardiomyopathy often occurs in the young.
  • The condition tends to be progressive and sometimes worsens fairly quickly.
  • Cardiomyopathy may accompany diseases involving other organs, as well as the heart.
  • It is a leading cause for heart transplantation.

Causes of Cardiomyopathy

Children with cardiomyopathy may have “acquired” the condition (meaning they weren’t born with it, but developed it due to another disease, condition or factor) or “inherited” it (parents passed the gene for the disease onto the child). Major causes of acquired cardiomyopathy are viral infections that infect the heart. Other causes include complex congenital (present at birth) heart disease; nutritional deficiencies; uncontrollable, fast heart rhythms; or certain types of chemotherapy for cancer. The cause of cardiomyopathy often isn’t known, especially when the disease occurs in children.

There are four types of cardiomyopathy that affect children:

  1. Dilated cardiomyopathy. The most common form of cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle becomes enlarged and stretched (dilated), causing the heart to weaken and pump inefficiently.
  2. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. For children with this condition, the heart muscle becomes thicker than normal, obstructing blood flow to the rest of the body. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is often hereditary. Approximately half of children with the disease have a parent or sibling with varying degrees of left ventricular muscle or ventricular wall enlargement. However, the child’s relatives may or may not have symptoms.
  3. Restrictive cardiomyopathy. The least common type of cardiomyopathy in the U.S., it occurs when the myocardium of the ventricles becomes excessively rigid, thus impairing the heart’s ability to fill the ventricles with blood between heartbeats. It rarely occurs in children.
  4. Arrhythmic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD). This rare type of cardiomyopathy occurs when the muscle tissue in the right ventricle dies and is replaced by scar tissue. This process disrupts the heart's electrical system and causes arrhythmias. It usually affects teens and young adults. Symptoms include heart palpitations and fainting after physical activity. It can cause sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes.

Symptoms of Cardiomyopathy

Symptoms vary, depending on the child and type of cardiomyopathy. The most common symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy include:

  • Pale or ashen skin color
  • Cool, sweaty skin
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Chest pain
  • Poor appetite
  • Slow growth

The most common symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy include:

  • Shortness of breath on exertion
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Abnormal heart rhythms

The most common symptoms of restrictive cardiomyopathy include:

  • Shortness of breath on exertion
  • Chest pain
  • Weakness
  • Swelling of the extremities

Symptoms of ARVD include heart palpitations and fainting after physical activity.

Health Problems Associated with Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy prevents the heart muscle from pumping enough blood to meet the body's needs.

Treatment for Cardiomyopathy

How Cardiomyopathy is treated

A child’s physician determines the best treatment plan for cardiomyopathy, based on:

  • A child's age, overall health and medical history
  • Severity of the disease
  • A child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Parents’ opinions or preferences

Share this page: