Conditions & Treatments

Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy is any disease of the heart muscle in which the heart loses its ability to pump blood effectively.

Cardiomyopathy

What is cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy describes any disorder that affects the heart muscle, causing the heart to lose its ability to pump blood effectively. In some instances, the heart rhythm also becomes disturbed and leads to arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). There may be multiple causes of cardiomyopathy, including viral infections and certain medications. Often, the exact cause of the muscle disease is never found.

How does cardiomyopathy differ from other heart disorders?

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

  • Cardiomyopathy can occur in the young.

  • The condition tends to be progressive and sometimes worsens fairly quickly.

  • It may be associated with diseases involving other organs, as well as the heart.

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy is a leading cause for heart transplantation.

What causes cardiomyopathy?

Viral infections that infect the heart are a major cause of cardiomyopathy. In some instances, cardiomyopathy is a result of another disease or its treatment, such as complex congenital (present at birth) heart disease, nutritional deficiencies, uncontrollable, fast heart rhythms, or certain types of chemotherapy for cancer. Sometimes, cardiomyopathy can be linked to a genetic abnormality. Other times, the cause is unknown. Three types of cardiomyopathy typically affect adults. They are:

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy

  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy

What is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy?

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy occurs when the muscle of the left ventricle of the heart becomes thicker than normal, obstructing blood flow to the rest of the body. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can affect the heart's mitral valve, causing blood to leak backward through the valve.

  • This is a rare disease and in most cases is inherited.

  • It can affect men and women of all ages, and symptoms can appear in childhood or adulthood

  • Symptoms include shortness of breath on exertion, dizziness, fainting, and angina pectoris.

  • Some people have cardiac arrhythmias, which may lead to sudden death.

What is dilated cardiomyopathy?

Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most frequent form of cardiomyopathy. The cavity of the heart is enlarged and stretched, compromising the heart's ability to pump normally:

  • This occurs most often in adults ages 20 to 60 and more often in men than women, but has been diagnosed in people of all ages, including children.

  • Most people eventually develop heart failure.

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy can be caused by chronic, excessive consumption of alcohol and nutritional deficiencies associated with alcoholism.

  • It occasionally occurs as a complication of pregnancy and childbirth.

  • Other possible causes include: various infections (mostly viral, which lead to inflammation of the heart muscle, called myocarditis), illicit drugs, and (rarely) heredity. Sometimes medications used to treat a different medical condition can damage the heart and produce dilated cardiomyopathy. However, in most cases, a specific cause for the damage is never identified.

What is restrictive cardiomyopathy?

Restrictive cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle becomes excessively rigid and unable to fill with blood properly. It's the least common type of cardiomyopathy in the U.S.

  • It often occurs due to an underlying disorder, such as amyloidosis, hemochromatosis, scleroderma, or sarcoidosis.

  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy does not appear to be inherited, but some of the diseases that lead to the condition are genetically transmitted.

  • Symptoms may include fatigue, swelling of the extremities, and difficulty breathing on exertion.

What is arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia?

ARVD is a rare type of cardiomyopathy that occurs if the muscle tissue in the right ventricle dies and is replaced by scar tissue:

  • This process disrupts the heart's electrical system, causing 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.                 

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Heart Center

  • Corrigan Women's Heart Health Program
    The Elizabeth Anne and Karen Barlow Corrigan Women's Heart Health Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Corrigan Minehan Heart Center cares for women of all ages through prevention and early detection of heart disease.
  • Cardiovascular Genetics
    The Cardiovascular Genetics Service specializes in clinical and genetic screening for inherited cardiovascular diseases and counseling of patients with inherited conditions.
  • Cardiovascular Performance Program
    The Cardiovascular Performance Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Corrigan Minehan Heart Center offers specialized cardiac care for athletes, including leading treatments for suspected or confirmed heart disease, detailed pre-participation safety screenings and exercise assessments.
  • Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplant Program
    The Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplant Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Corrigan Minehan Heart Center evaluates and manages a range of heart disease conditions that result in heart failure.
  • Resynchronization and Advanced Cardiac Therapeutics Program
    The Resynchronization and Advanced Cardiac Therapeutics Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Corrigan Minehan Heart Center offers cardiac resynchronization therapy, or the use of a specialized pacemaker to treat patients with heart failure.
  • Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Program
    The Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Corrigan Minehan Heart Center in Boston provides expert care for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition characterized by an abnormal thickening of the left ventricle's muscle.
Imaging

  • Heart Imaging
    The Heart Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging provides comprehensive diagnostic cardiac imaging, using state-of-the-art CT and MRI technology and with expert interpretation by specialty-trained cardiovascular radiologists.
  • Pediatric Imaging
    The Pediatric Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging specializes in ensuring the safety and comfort of child patients while providing the latest technology and the expertise of specialized pediatric radiologists.
Transplant Center

  • Heart Transplant Program
    The Heart Transplant Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Transplant Center offers comprehensive treatment, transplantation and management options for patients with congestive heart failure.
Department of Neurology

  • Cardio-Neurology Clinic
    The Massachusetts General Hospital Cardio-Neurology Clinic provides comprehensive neurological evaluation and care for patients with cerebrovascular disorders related to the heart, including patent foramen ovale (PFO).
Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine

  • Cardiac Wellness Program: Reduce Cardiac Risk
    Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. Although genetics plays a role in the development of heart disease, lifestyle choices have been proven to significantly influence the health of your heart. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of having a heart attack or stroke. This program is held at MGH West in Waltham, MA.

The following related clinical trials and research studies are currently seeking participants at Massachusetts General Hospital. Search for clinical trials and studies in another area of interest.

Heart disease in women: Dispelling the myths

Misconceptions have created a gender gap in treatment of women with cardiovascular disease

February Heart Month: Mass General Cardiac Surgeon Talks about Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Throughout the month of February, our doctors and specialists in the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Heart, Vascular and Stroke Care will be sharing their expertise on various heart conditions and offering prevention tips in recognition of American Heart Month. Roughly one in every four deaths in the U.S. each year is due to heart disease, making it the leading cause of death for Americans.

Innovative care at the Corrigan Minehan Heart Center

Learn more about the latest treatment options for this condition at the Corrigan Minehan Heart Center.