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Cardiomyopathy Explained


A disease of the heart muscle, cardiomyopathy can affect anyone, any age. An estimated one in 500 Australians suffer from the condition.

If you suffer from cardiomyopathy, your heart is unable to pump an adequate supply of blood around the body. According to Brian Austin, from the Cardiomyopathy Association of Australia, it’s a mistake in the coding of the cells that causes the disease. “This mistake tells the cells to do something different or not to develop as they should,” he explains.  

Brian has cardiomyopathy himself and says his type is known as hypertrophic, meaning the heart muscle thickens in the septum. The amount of thickening will determine how much the blood flow is affected.

Other types include:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (or an enlarged heart), which is the most common form. Here, the heart muscle stretches and becomes thinner.
  • Arrhythmogenic right ventricular, a more unusual form associated with arrhythmias
  • Restrictive or 'stiff' heart, which is the least common. In this situation, the heart becomes rigid due to scar tissue.
  • Ischaemic, which is where blockages in the coronary arteries lead to a damaged and weakened heart muscle.’

Symptoms and treatment

It’s important to know the warning signs, so what are the symptoms? For Brian, they include fatigue, lethargy and occasional palpitations.

Other symptoms include shortness of breath, fainting attacks and at times, chest pains.

In terms of treating the disease, there is no way to reverse or cure it. But it can be managed. And the management plan will largely depend on the symptoms and type of cardiomyopathy a patient presents with. Examples of treatment options include medications, pacemakers or defibrillators that are implanted, or surgery. However, this last one only happens in a small number of cases.

Importantly, despite the severity of the disease, if caught early and managed correctly, the majority of people who are diagnosed with cardiomyopathy will lead a relatively normal life.

A change in lifestyle

Of course, a change in lifestyle will also help manage the symptoms. However, remember, once diagnosed, it cannot be reversed. Lifestyle changes can be anything from giving up smoking to eating less salt. Additionally, it’s beneficial to limit your alcohol intake.

When it comes to exercise, regular light to moderate physical activity every day is beneficial. The key here is to exercise without becoming breathless or too tired. A good indicator is being able to conduct a conversation while doing the physical activity. It’s all about knowing how far you can push before you have to stop. And never ever do exercise without consulting your doctor.

Read up

If you think you are showing symptoms of cardiomyopathy, talk to the experts. It’s best to ask your GP for a referral to a cardiologist who specialises in cardiomyopathy as it can be a difficult condition to diagnose.

Once diagnosed, Brian suggests doing some reading and informing yourself about your situation. “My advice to people who have recently been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy is to seek all the information that you can from the medical experts,” he says. “Joining a support group such as the Cardiomyopathy Association of Australia is important to give you access to websites, newsletters and social gatherings.

Also, Brian says, keep a sense of positivity and talk about how you feel. “Share your feelings and concerns with family members and friends and try to have a positive attitude to life.”

Importantly, understand the familial implications. “Several years after my diagnosis I discovered that there were family linkages to cardiomyopathy. Of my mother's twelve siblings at least seven carried the rogue gene and also at least eighteen cousins,” Brian explains. When it comes to cardiomyopathy, the condition can be passed from parent to child. For this reason, familial screenings are advised in circumstances where there is a history of family members dying from a heart condition suddenly or at younger ages.

For more information:

Cardiomyopathy Association: