Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a condition that is usually passed down through families (inherited). It is believed to be a result of several problems (defects) with the genes that control heart muscle growth.
Younger people are likely to have a more severe form of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. However, the condition is seen in people of all ages.
Some patients have no symptoms. They may not even realize they have the condition until it is found during a routine medical exam.
The first symptom of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy among many young patients is sudden collapse and possible death. This can be caused by very abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), or from the blockage of blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
Blood tests may be done to rule out other possible diseases.
Close family members of people who have been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may be screened for the condition.
If you have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, always follow your doctor's advice about exercise and medical appointments. You may be advised to avoid strenuous exercise.
If you have symptoms, you may need medication to help the heart contract and relax correctly. These may relieve chest pain or shortness of breath when exercising. Some medications used include beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers.
Some people with arrhythmias may need treatment, such as:
Medicines to treat the abnormal rhythm
Blood thinners to reduce the risk of blood clots (if the arrhythmia is due to atrial fibrillation)
A permanent pacemaker to control the heartbeat
An implanted defibrillator that recognizes life-threatening heart rhythms and sends an electrical pulse to stop them. Sometimes a defibrillator is placed, even if the patient has not had an arrhythmia, but is at high risk for a deadly arrhythmia (for example, if the heart muscle is very sick or the patient has a relative who has died suddenly).
When blood flow out of the heart is severely blocked, symptoms can become severe. An operation called surgical myectomy may be done. In some cases, patients may be given an injection of alcohol into the arteries that feed the thickened part of the heart (alcohol septal ablation). Patients who have this procedure often show significant improvement.
If the heart's mitral valve is leaking, surgery may be done to repair or replace the valve.
Some people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may not have symptoms and will have a normal lifespan. Others may get worse slowly or quickly. The condition may develop into dilated cardiomyopathy in some patients.
People with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy are at higher risk for sudden death than the normal population. Sudden death can occur at a young age.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a well-known cause of sudden death in athletes. Almost half of deaths in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy happen during or just after the patient has done some type of physical activity.
Calling your health care provider
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
You have any symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
You develop chest pain, palpitations, faintness, or other new or unexplained symptoms
Maron BJ. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds.Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. St. Louis, Mo: WB Saunders; 2011:chap 69.
Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.