What Is Cardiomyopathy? | MedStar Health

Know the types of this heart muscle disease

Cardiomyopathy is a disease that weakens or changes the structure of your heart muscle, which makes it difficult for your heart to fill with and pump blood. This disease may progress slowly, but symptoms often continue to get worse unless you receive treatment.

Types include:

Symptoms and causes

When your heart is having difficulty pumping blood, you may experience:

  • Arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat

  • Coughing
  • Dizziness or fainting

  • Fatigue
  • Palpitations, or sensations of a racing heart or fluttering in your chest

  • Swelling in your feet, legs, or abdomen

Cardiomyopathy is often caused by heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, or congenital heart disease.

It also can be an inherited genetic condition. If someone in your family has been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, talk to your doctor about whether you should consider genetic testing to determine your risk.

Cardiomyopathy is one of the major causes of heart failure and may require a heart transplant if your condition is severe.


Angiogram (Angiography)

An angiogram is a special X-ray taken as a special dye is injected through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter to detect blockages or aneurysms in blood vessels.

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

Chest X-ray

Chest X-rays use a small dose of radiation to create pictures of the structures inside the chest, including the lungs, heart, and chest wall.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.


An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.

Electrophysiology Testing

Electrophysiology testing is used to evaluate the cause and location of an abnormal heartbeat (known as an arrhythmia).

Event Monitors

An event monitor is a small device that records the heart’s electrical activity. It’s similar to an electrocardiogram, but where an electrocardiogram takes place over a few minutes, an event monitor measures heart rhythms over a much longer time.

Heart Biopsy

In a heart biopsy, your doctor will remove small samples of your heart muscle tissue to monitor heart function or diagnose a problem.

Holter Monitors

A Holter monitor is a small device that records the heart’s electrical activity. It’s similar to an electrocardiogram, but whereas an electrocardiogram records over a few minutes, a Holter monitor records over the course of a day or two.

Loop Recorder

A loop recorder is a device that’s implanted underneath the skin of your chest to record your heart rhythm for up to 3 years.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets, and computer technology to create images of your heart and blood vessels.

Stress Tests

Stress tests are used to assess how your heart works during physical activity. There are several types of stress tests, including treadmill or bike stress tests, nuclear stress tests, stress echocardiograms, and chemically induced stress tests.

Tilt Table Test

Tilt table testing allows your doctor to determine the cause of explained fainting while monitoring changes in your blood pressure and heart rate while tilted at different angles.


Treatment options for cardiomyopathy will depend on the cause and severity of your condition. Our heart and vascular specialists may recommend medication first, though in more severe cases, a heart transplant or surgical implant such as an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) may be needed.

Heart Failure Surgery

Surgical treatments for heart failure can include coronary bypass surgery, mechanical support devices, and heart transplants.

Heart Failure Treatment 

Treatments for heart failure such as medications, surgery, and mechanical devices vary based on the cause and severity of your condition.

Inotropic Therapy 

Inotropic therapy is an IV medication that can relieve symptoms of heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms.

Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) 

An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is a device implanted below your collarbone that monitors your heart’s rhythm. When it detects an abnormal rhythm, it delivers an electrical impulse or shock to the heart to correct it.


A pacemaker is a device that helps control various types of heart rhythm disorders.


Have questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net.