This heart disorder is often a hidden health risk

This heart disorder is often a hidden health risk

Not all heart conditions are as apparent as a heart attack, where the symptoms and importance of action are clearer and more urgent.

Cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disorder that makes the heart weak, stiff or enlarged, is a serious condition that may affect people without them even knowing it.

“Unfortunately, there may be people in the population who have this disorder who are asymptomatic,” said Dr. Gregory Macaluso, program director of the Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiology Fellowship at the Advocate Heart Institute at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill.

The disorder prevents the heart muscle from pumping blood to the rest of the body and in many cases can also become thick or stiff. Over time, symptoms of congestive heart failure develop resulting in excess fluid accumulating within the body and vital organs. These organs, like the liver and kidneys, can begin to fail ultimately leading to death.

Although the causes of cardiomyopathy are numerous in many cases it may be unknown. In a certain subset of people, the disorder may be genetically inherited. Because cardiomyopathy can be inherited, knowing your family medical history can be essential to identifying whether you have the disease or may be at risk. Anyone who has a close family member with a heart muscle disorder or heart problem should consult with their physician and consider if they are eligible for heart screening or whether they should see a cardiologist, Macaluso said.

Genetic counseling and genetic testing that can identify if they are at risk for developing cardiomyopathy is also available for patients, Macaluso said. For those who have a family history of heart problems, this option may help people catch heart disease and disorders before they cause serious problems.

People who suspect they may be at risk of cardiomyopathy because of the presence of troublesome symptoms or family history concerns should set up an appointment with their doctor. It may be appropriate to see a heart specialist and undergo a comprehensive heart screening, Macaluso said.

Other people with cardiomyopathy may experience symptoms of congestive heart failure such as shortness of breath, fatigue, weight gain and body swelling. Visit a doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms.

Cardiomyopathy can be successfully treated, especially if identified early.

“We can potentially delay the onset of clinical disease and help prevent it from manifesting with medications and other treatments,” Macaluso said.

In other cases, where clinical signs and symptoms have begun medication and device therapy can improve or even recover heart function either temporarily or for a long period of time. Heart failure specialists can help best determine medical success or failure in which case some patients may require mechanical heart support or even a cardiac transplant.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as eating a low-cholesterol and low-fat diet, watching your weight and making sure you are physically active are the best ways to keep your heart healthy. Treating other conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure can also reduce the risk of heart complications.

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Patrick M. O’Connell

Patrick M. O'Connell, health enews contributor, is a member of Advocate Aurora Health's public affairs team. He previously worked as a reporter at news outlets throughout the Midwest, most recently the Chicago Tribune. He enjoys playing and coaching baseball and basketball, hiking, reading, listening to podcasts, karaoke and spending time in nature with his family.