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Health & Wellness

Cardiomyopathy: Heart Disease That Can Often Go Undiagnosed


The term "cardiomyopathy" refers to diseases of the heart muscle that make it difficult over time for the heart to pump blood throughout the body. As many as one in 500 people may have the condition. One form of it – dilated cardiomyopathy — contributed to the death of singer George Michael.

Dr. Mark Thompson is a cardiologist on the medical staff of Methodist Dallas Medical Center. 

Interview Highlights: 

What is cardiomyopathy? “A heterogeneous group of disorders; the end stage of a lot of specific cardiac diseases where the heart function is decreased or diminished. You have a weak heart that’s ineffective in pumping heart through the body."

What causes it? "When you look at it under a microscope or at autopsy, you’ll see there’s a dilated cardiomyopathy, you’ll see restrictive cardiomyopathy, you’ll see hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or you’ll see electrical cardiomyopathy. What we’ve recognized is that it looks different based on how you got there. There are also specific diseases that cause cardiomyopathy: coronary heart disease, hypertension. Each one could cause a different cardiomyopathy."

Dilated cardiomyopathy is tied to the death of singer George Michael: “There is a group of patients who have genetic-based or inherited forms of dilated forms of cardiomyopathy, and these are ones they pick up through familial inheritance of certain gene types and certain gene mutations are seen in higher prevalence in cardiomyopathy. Now, the acquired version, meaning the ones you aren’t born with. Those can be due to a number of different diseases. Unfortunately, for a number of people, they can get a virus and they may not actually develop the cardiomyopathy symptoms until weeks or months later."

Does treatment vary according to which form you have? “If you have a secondary cause of cardiomyopathy – meaning something else in your body, hepatitis-C, HIV – those you can treat the underlying disease and hope to get some improvement in the cardiac function. You also will treat the cardiac dysfunction pretty much across the board with the same mechanisms, no matter what causes the same cardiac dysfunctions."

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