Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common inherited cardiomyopathy, affecting 1 in 500 individuals in which the heart muscle (myocardium) becomes abnormally thick (hypertrophied). The thickened heart muscle can make it harder for the heart to pump blood. This disease often goes undiagnosed because many people with the disease have few, if any, symptoms and can lead normal lives with no significant problems. However, in a small number of people with HCM, the thickened heart muscle can cause shortness of breath, chest pain or problems in the heart’s electrical system, resulting in life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). It is also the most common cause of sudden death in young people, especially young athletes.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Males and females of all ages and races can have cardiomyopathy but Dilated cardiomyopathy is more common in blacks than in whites and in males than in females. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is usually passed down through families (inherited). If you have a parent with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, you have a 50% chance of having the genetic mutation for the disease. Parents, children or siblings of a person with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy should ask their doctors about screening for the disease.
Dr. Steve Ommen is a Mayo Clinic cardiologist who specializes in the disease. He says shortness of breath or chest pain, especially during exercise, are common symptoms. “It’s important to point out first that it’s completely compatible with a normal life span and a normal quality of life and there are risky things we need to look out for, but that really affects the minority of people.” Many people with the disease won’t have any significant health problems. But there are cases that require treatment.
If a patient has symptoms that affect quality of life, the disease is treated with medications. Surgery or other procedures also may be necessary in some cases. Undergoing “risk assessment to make sure patients aren’t at high risk for dangerous heart rhythms, in which case an implantable defibrillator device might be considered to serve as a safety net,” says Dr. Ommen. “We can mechanically thin down the heart muscle where it’s getting in the way of blood flow either through a catheter-based procedure or with a well-established surgical procedure called surgical septal myectomy,” says Dr. Ommen.
Signs and symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may include one or more of the following:
- Chest pain, especially during exercise
- Fainting, especially during or just after exercise or exertion
- Heart murmur, which a doctor might detect while listening to your heart
- Sensation of rapid, fluttering or pounding heartbeats (palpitations)
- Shortness of breath, especially during exercise
For more information on Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville, please visit mayoclinic.org.