A problem with the heart’s ability to hold blood

Normally, the heart’s lower chambers, the ventricles, expand as blood flows into the heart before a heartbeat. If you have restrictive cardiomyopathy, these chambers are too stiff to expand, which causes the heart to pump less effectively over time. This condition can lead to heart failure in severe cases. Our Advanced Heart Failure program is unmatched in the mid-Atlantic region for its services, quality of care and patient outcomes.

Restrictive cardiomyopathy is the rarest form of cardiomyopathy, or disease of the heart muscle. Your ventricles may have trouble expanding as a result of scar tissue in the heart; chemotherapy or exposure to radiation in the chest area; or a condition called amyloidosis, which is an abnormal build-up of protein in the heart muscle. People who have a condition called hemochromatosis, which causes the body to retain too much iron, also may be at risk.

What are the symptoms of restrictive cardiomyopathy

You may not notice any symptoms, or they may develop over time as the heart has a harder time pumping. Possible restrictive cardiomyopathy symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue and trouble exercising

  • Heart palpitations, or the sensation that the heart rate is skipping, slowing down or racing

  • Nausea and bloating

  • Shortness of breath (during exercise at first but eventually during rest as well)

  • Swelling of the legs and feet


A physical exam, blood tests and a range of other tests can help your doctor determine whether you have restrictive cardiomyopathy.

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.

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.

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.


Treatment of restrictive cardiomyopathy usually focuses on lifestyle changes and medications to address the condition’s underlying cause. In severe cases, your doctor may recommend a heart transplant or other advanced treatments.

Heart Surgery

Heart surgery is an option to treat many heart conditions. You may need heart surgery either as a lifesaving procedure or when other treatments haven’t worked.

Heart Transplants

A heart transplant replaces a diseased, failing heart with a healthier heart from a donor.

Ask MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

Have general questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net. If you have clinically-specific questions, please contact your physician’s office.