What is Cardiomyopathy?

What is Cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy refers to diseases that affect the heart muscle and its ability to pump blood through the body. With cardiomyopathy, heart muscles thicken, stiffen, or stretch the walls of the heart chambers, which may cause the heart to lose its ability to function well. Unlike other heart diseases that are caused by blocked arteries or valve disorders, cardiomyopathy is sometimes an inherited condition that affects both mainly children and younger people. 

Cardiomyopathy may lead to heart failure. The condition is broken down into three main types: dilated, hypertrophic, and restrictive. During the early stages of cardiomyopathy, there may be no present signs or symptoms of a heart problem. However, as the condition worsens, symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pressure may increase over time. 

Cardiomyopathy vs. Heart Failure

There is a key difference between cardiomyopathy vs. heart failure. Cardiomyopathy pertains to diseases that affect the heart muscle—the cause; heart failure is the result of the diseases affecting the heart.

Types of Cardiomyopathy


There are a various types of cardiomyopathy, including:

Dilated cardiomyopathy. The most common type of cardiomyopathy, this type generally affects adults younger than 50. Dilated cardiomyopathy usually starts in the heart’s left ventricle. This is the main chamber area responsible for pumping blood throughout the body.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Thickening of the heart muscle wall makes it difficult to pump blood out of the heart. Often hypertrophic cardiomyopathy goes undetected since few symptoms are exhibited. However, in some cases this condition can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, lightheadedness, fainting or an abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmias). It is also one of the most common causes of sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes.

Restrictive cardiomyopathy. One of the rarest form of cardiomyopathy, where the walls of the ventricles (lower chambers of the heart) become hardened. Eventually, these ventricles do not expand properly, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood. This condition can lead to heart failure.

Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVC) Occurs when normal heart tissue is replaced by fatty tissue, which causes a disruption in the electrical signals in the heart. The fatty tissue can eventually weaken the heart and cause irregular heart rhythms, leading to heart failure.

Unclassified cardiomyopathy. Refers to cardiomyopathy that is of an unknown cause and may be related to an underlying condition.

Signs and Symptoms of Cardiomyopathy

  • Breathlessness, even when at rest
  • Swelling of the legs, ankles, and feet
  • Bloating of the abdomen due to fluid build-up
  • Coughing while lying down
  • Difficulty lying flat
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizzy, lightheaded, or feeling faint

What Causes Cardiomyopathy?


Cardiomyopathy is often a congenital heart disease (inherited and present at birth). Viral infections of the heart are another major cause of cardiomyopathy. Other factors that may contribute to this condition include nutritional deficiencies, erratic heart rhythms, and certain types of cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation. 

Additional causes of cardiomyopathy may include:

  • Long-term high blood pressure
  • Heart tissue damage from a heart attack
  • Long-term rapid heart rate
  • Heart valve problems
  • COVID-19 infection
  • Certain infections (Hepatitis C, HIV, Epstein-Barr virus)
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Drug use, including cocaine, amphetamines, or anabolic steroids

Risk Factors for Cardiomyopathy

Risk Factors

Having a family history of certain health conditions may play an important role in determining the cause for cardiomyopathy. Other factors may also increase your individual risk for this condition, including:

  • Obesity
  • Thyroid disease
  • Diabetes



Serious symptoms and complications may occur as a result of cardiomyopathy, including: 

  • Heart failure  
  • Blood clots 
  • Cardiac arrest 
Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Cardiomyopathy Care

NewYork-Presbyterian is a world leader in cardiology and cardiac surgery, providing high quality heart care for children and adults with heart disease.

Schedule an appointment and get care for cardiomyopathy with one of our world-class physicians at NewYork-Presbyterian.