Is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy always dangerous?

Published: Wednesday, December 14, 2022
Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgeon

If you’ve been told you have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, you may wonder what that even means. The first thing to know is that most people who have the condition live a normal, healthy life.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, often simply referenced as HCM, is a type of genetic heart disease that causes the heart muscle to thicken. As the walls of the heart thicken, the heart stiffens and has to work harder to pump to the rest of the body.

There are many different ways that HCM can present itself in the body, and each person’s experience may be a little different. Read on for a look at what you might experience if you have the condition and how the condition is treated.

What Symptoms Will You Have With Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy?

Because hypertrophic cardiomyopathy shows up in different ways, not every patient with the condition will experience every symptom related to the condition. For example, the thickening of the heart muscle can sometimes cause blood flow out of the heart to be obstructed, but that isn’t always the case.

When you first develop HCM, you may not experience any noticeable symptoms at all. But symptoms can appear or disappear at any time. Symptoms may include:

  • Arrhythmias
  • Brain fog
  • Chest discomfort or pressure
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Fainting
  • Heart palpitations
  • Lightheadedness
  • Muscle pains
  • Shortness of breath

How Is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Treated?

If you are diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, your cardiologist will suggest a treatment plan that’s based a number of factors, including how well your heart is functioning, your age, how active you are, whether there is an obstruction limiting blood flow, and whether you’re having heart rhythm issues.

Treatment for HCM has two main purposes—to alleviate symptoms and to limit the risk of complications, such as heart failure or sudden cardiac death. Depending on your specific situation, treatment may include recommendations for lifestyle changes, medications, surgical and nonsurgical procedures to correct structural issues like thickening of the septum, or the implantation of devices to maintain a normal heart rhythm.

In the past, medications used to treat HCM were primarily treating the individual symptoms. In April 2022, though, the first medication solely to treat obstructive HCM was approved by the FDA.

If surgery is required, a minimally invasive procedure, including robotic surgery in which smaller incisions are used, may be appropriate in some cases. This procedure allows a surgeon to remove part of the enlarged septum through a septal myectomy while also repairing the mitral valve, all through tiny incisions that cause less damage to the surrounding tissue. This reduces blood loss, lowers the risk of complications, and often leads to a quicker recovery.

Some patients may be eligible for an interventional cardiology procedure known as alcohol septal ablation to treat hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This procedure involves guiding a catheter through the groin and up to the heart. Alcohol is injected directly into the heart, killing some of the thickened heart muscle’s cells and causing them to immediately shrink. The smaller heart muscle allows blood to flow more easily through the heart and reduces HCM symptoms.

Can You Live a Long Life With Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy?

Many patients with HCM live long and healthy lives. But it is important to note that having hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest, particularly in young athletes. Untreated HCM can also worsen over time, causing heart rhythm disruptions or heart failure.

Because the condition can develop in multiple ways, causing a variety of symptoms, it’s important to work with a medical team that’s experienced in diagnosing and treating hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Carefully following a treatment plan and making lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of serious complications can help you live a normal life.

Next Steps

When your heart is at stake, you want a team of experts with specialty training related to the condition you have. Georgia Heart has a multidisciplinary team of general cardiologists, heart surgeons and interventional cardiologists to help treat patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.