The most common form of genetic heart disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy impacts as many as 1 in every 500 people, but many individuals go undiagnosed because it can be asymptomatic. However, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can still cause damage to the heart even if there are no signs.
What is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy?
When a person has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the muscles in the heart that pump blood to the body become stiff and thick. Over time, that begins to impact how much blood the heart can pump out to the body. This can lead to uncomfortable symptoms and even serious or life-threatening complications.
What are the signs and symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy?
It’s important to note that people can have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and never have any signs. But if you experience any of the following signs or symptoms, it’s important to schedule an appointment with a cardiologist.
- Chest pain, also called angina
- Feeling faint or experiencing shortness of breath, especially during or after exercise
- Irregular heartbeat, usually noticed by a doctor
- Heart palpitations
- Swelling in the legs or feet
- Unexplained fainting
Is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy serious?
Some people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may live a long, healthy life and never experience any negative health impacts. For others, it may lead to serious and even life-threating complications. However, many of those complications can be managed or treated by a cardiologist or cardiovascular surgeon.
- Atrial fibrillation
The most common type of irregular heartbeat, atrial fibrillation (Afib) can increase the risk of stroke and lead to heart failure or other heart diseases.
- Mitral valve regurgitation
Also known as a “leaky” heart valve, mild or severe mitral valve regurgitation often requires surgery or catheter-based intervention.
- Heart failure
A chronic, progressive disease, heart failure happens when the heart cannot meet the body’s need for blood.
- Sudden cardiac death
While this is a rare complication from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, severe thickening of the walls of the heart can cause the heart to suddenly stop.
What is the difference between obstructive and non-obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy?
There are two types of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy:
- Obstructive (also called HOCM or hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy) is the more common form of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Obstructive refers to the fact that the area where the heart’s walls thicken leads to reduced blood flow to the body’s main artery. Because of this, the obstructive type has more serious complications.
- Non-obstructive (also called HNCM or hypertrophic non-obstructive cardiomyopathy) is less common. In this type, the walls of the heart do thicken, but they don’t obstruct the flow of blood to the body. People with HNCM may require less treatment to live a healthy life.
Diagnosing Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy
Scheduling an appointment with a cardiologist is the best way to be tested for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or other heart conditions.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above or you are simply concerned about your heart health, the best next step is to meet with a general cardiologist. Georgia Heart Institute offers two pathways to get started on your heart health journey:
- Contact our Center for Cardiovascular Prevention, Metabolism & Lipids for a preventative heart screening and appointment.
- Make an appointment with a general cardiologist.
Types of Diagnostics
If your cardiologist believes you may have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, they may recommend any of the following diagnostics:
- Genetic testing or a review of your family history
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a genetic heart disease, so many individuals with the disease will have a family history of heart problems. Genetic testing can help determine if you carry the gene.
This noninvasive diagnostic is often recommended to discover issues with the heart. In this case, it will help the cardiologist understand how thick the heart muscle is and how well your blood is pumping through the heart.
- Cardiac MRI
A cardiac MRI is a painless, noninvasive diagnostic that enables your cardiologist to look closely at the structure and function of your heart.
Heart healthy lifestyle
For some people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the best approach may be simply to live a heart healthy lifestyle and continue to monitor your condition. Many people with this condition live long, healthy lives with no complications. In those cases, taking precautions to protect the heart and seeing a cardiologist regularly is sufficient.
For individuals with mild symptoms, but without serious complications, medication may be an option. Usually, medication is prescribed to manage symptoms or treat complications caused by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
You may be prescribed drugs that help control high blood pressure or cholesterol, drugs that help regulate the rhythm of the heart or others that reduce swelling and water retention. None of these medications will treat or cure the thickening of the heart’s walls, but they may prevent further complications or improve symptoms.
There is also a new FDA-approved drug called Mayacamten that is approved specifically to improve the heart’s capacity and symptoms related to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Minimally-invasive catheter-based treatment
Through our Structural Heart Center, we offer a catheter-based procedure called alcohol septal ablation for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. During the procedure, a thin tube is inserted into the groin and then led up to the heart. Alcohol is injected into the thickened walls of the heart, causing those cells to shrink and improving the heart’s ability to pump blood out to the body.
Endoscopic robotic surgery
Not all patients see improvements through medication or lifestyle changes, and for some they may not be candidates for a catheter-based procedure either. For many, surgery is truly the best option to ensure that they can live a long and healthy life. While surgery can sound scary, Georgia Heart Institute offers options that can be performed through several small incisions, rather than open heart surgery, reducing recovery time and pain from the surgery.
Learn more about robotic surgery for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Why choose Georgia Heart Institute?
Our care team, comprised of General Cardiologists, Interventional Cardiologists and Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgeons, offers some of the most advanced care options for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in the nation. Through our Heart Failure Center, we have extensive experience treating this genetic heart condition and improving quality and length of life for our patients with even the most complex heart conditions.
Receiving care for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy at Georgia Heart Institute
If you have been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or would like to get testing for this disease, the best place to start is with our Heart Failure Center. Our specialized center treats patients with heart and vascular disorders, like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, that may lead to heart failure and also offers expertise and treatment options for patients with even the most advanced stages of heart failure. Learn more about the Heart Failure Treatment & Recovery Center or contact them at 770-848-7884.