Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Cardiomyopathy: What You Should Know


Am Fam Physician. 2009 May 1;79(9):1.

  See related article on cardiomyopathy.

What is cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy (CAR-dee-oh-my-AH-puh-thee) is a condition that affects your heart. It can have many causes. It may be caused by coronary artery disease (blocked arteries), high blood pressure, infections, certain medicines, diabetes, thyroid disorders, or drinking too much alcohol. Sometimes it can happen during the last trimester of pregnancy or the first few months after having a baby, but that is rare.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may be the same as for heart failure. These include shortness of breath, low energy, coughing, trouble breathing while lying down, edema (swelling of the legs or stomach), chest pain, and passing out.

How do I know if I have it?

Your doctor will ask about your personal and family history, and examine you. He or she may do some tests on your heart and blood.

It is important to tell your doctor if someone in your family has it because some types can run in families. Your doctor may do tests to see if you are at risk.

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of the cardiomyopathy. For example, if you have high blood pressure, your doctor will prescribe medicine to help control it.

If you smoke or drink alcohol, your doctor may tell you to quit. You should also eat less than 2,400 mg of salt per day. Exercise is important, but check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

If you have heart failure, you may need a small device that is like a pacemaker to help your heart work right. You will need surgery to place the device in your body. You may also need a heart transplant. A cardiologist (heart specialist) can help you and your doctor make that decision.

Where can I get more information?

American Academy of Family Physicians

Web site:

American Heart Association

Web site:

Telephone: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721)

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Web site:

Telephone: 1-301-592-8573

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2009 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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