Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), or thickening of heart muscle, is a genetic condition. People with the gene variations that lead to the disease can experience symptoms at any age. While HCM can lead to severe complications without treatment, the right care can keep you healthy.
At the Center for Structural Heart Disease, our renowned doctors provide effective management and treatment to protect your heart.
Why choose Henry Ford Health System to care for HCM?
Our experienced team has provided minimally invasive treatment for HCM for more than two decades. When needed, team members can also provide surgery. We provide the accurate diagnosis and treatment options you need.
What is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy?
HCM occurs when heart muscle thickens. It affects the wall (septum) between the heart’s left and right sides, primarily the bottom section that divides the ventricles. It can also occur in other sections of the heart’s wall, but not as frequently.
HCM typically takes years to develop — when the disease is diagnosed, it’s usually when someone is a teenager or young adult. If symptoms occur, they usually come on gradually, though they can sometimes appear suddenly. Once HCM forms, it grows worse over time and can cause changes in the heart’s function that include:
- Reduced blood flow: The thickened muscle can narrow the left ventricle and block blood flow to the aorta, the body’s main artery. This can cause blood pressure to rise.
- Irregular heartbeat: The thickened muscle can disrupt your heart’s natural rhythm and cause an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, to develop.
- Breathing problems: The left ventricle can become stiff, which can reduce the blood flow out of the heart. Blood can then pool in the lungs and lead to breathing problems.
- Mitral valve issues: The thickened septum can affect the mitral valve, which may reduce blood flow to the body.
- Strain on the heart: The heart must work harder to pump enough blood to the brain and vital organs, which can damage the heart over time.
Complications of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
It’s important to receive proper care for HCM, as the condition can lead to complications such as heart failure. While medications can often treat heart failure, some people end up needing a device to assist their heart or a heart transplant.
In rare cases, arrhythmias from HCM can lead to sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart stops beating without warning. Without immediate treatment, sudden cardiac arrest can prove fatal.
Causes of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
HCM is caused by changes in certain genes — changes that are inherited from a parent. These genetic changes affect the proteins that build heart muscle. But just because you have one of these changes doesn’t mean you’ll develop HCM. Doctors are still learning why some people with genetic changes develop the disease and others don’t.
Additionally, certain factors can make hypertrophic cardiomyopathy worse:
- Family history of cardiomyopathy, heart failure or sudden cardiac arrest
- Heart conditions such as heart attack, heart disease or heart infection
- Other diseases such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and thyroid disorders
Symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
People with HCM may not have any symptoms. Others experience:
- Shortness of breath and fatigue during physical activity
- Chest discomfort or pain during physical activity, while at rest or after meals
- Heart palpitations or the sensation of extra or skipped heartbeats
- Light-headedness or fainting, especially during or after physical activity or after lying down
Diagnosing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
Because HCM can cause severe complications, you should see your doctor if you have any symptoms or a family history of the disease. If your doctor refers you to Henry Ford, you can visit us at our main campus, Henry Ford Hospital, Jackson (Henry Ford Allegiance) or Clinton Township (Henry Ford Macomb).
Our team performs a complete evaluation when first meeting with you, including:
- Physical exam, including checking for heart murmurs and other unusual signs
- Review of your family medical history
- Detailed assessment of your symptoms
- Recommendations for additional heart tests and scans, if needed
Treatment for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
Our team works together to review your symptoms, heart function, age, health and needs. Your heart doctor then works with you to develop a customized treatment plan.
You may not need treatment for HCM if you don’t have symptoms. In such cases, we work with your primary care doctor to monitor your heart at scheduled checkups. If you do have symptoms, our doctors offer several treatment options for HCM, including:
- Medication and monitoring: Medications may be enough to control mild symptoms. Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes to help you enjoy better health. Some examples include getting moderate exercise, eating a healthy diet and giving up cigarettes.
- Minimally invasive procedures: We offer a procedure called alcohol septal ablation to treat HCM. We have performed this procedure for nearly 20 years, and it offers a faster recovery than traditional open-heart surgery.
- Surgery: Our team’s experienced heart surgeons can perform septal myectomy if alcohol septal ablation is not an option. This surgery removes the thickened areas of heart muscle. Learn more about Henry Ford heart surgery.