Patient information: Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (Beyond the Basics)
- Martin S Maron, MD
Martin S Maron, MD
- Assistant Professor of Medicine
- Tufts University School of Medicine
HYPERTROPHIC CARDIOMYOPATHY OVERVIEW
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a genetic disease that causes the heart muscle to become thickened, or hypertrophied. The heart cells in HCM are also abnormal, arranged in a disorganized pattern with fibrosis/scarring often present between the cells. In addition, the mitral valve can be affected and in some patients may briefly obstruct blood flow out from the main pumping chamber of the heart, which can result in higher pressures than normal in the heart.
Approximately 1 in 500 adults have HCM. The disease is associated with normal longevity in the vast majority of diagnosed patients. In addition, most patients with HCM are asymptomatic and are not at risk of developing adverse complications related to HCM. Among those patients who do develop symptoms, the most common complaints include: chest pain, shortness of breath with exertion, fatigue, palpitations, and lightheadedness. A very small minority of patients are at risk of sudden death, which occurs most commonly in young patients.
Normal heart function — The heart is a pump that contains four chambers: the right atrium, right ventricle, left atrium, and left ventricle (figure 1). Blood returning to the heart from the body flows into the right atrium and then into the right ventricle. Blood is pumped out of the right ventricle to the lungs, where oxygen is added. Blood then returns to the heart through the left atrium. Blood in the left atrium flows into the left ventricle, which pumps the blood into the aorta to deliver oxygen to the organs and tissues of the body.
HOW DOES HYPERTROPHIC CARDIOMYOPATHY DEVELOP?
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a disorder caused by a "spelling mistake" (mutation) in one of a number of different genes, some of which have not yet been identified. The disorder is transmitted as an autosomal dominant trait. This means that there is a 50 percent chance that a parent with HCM will pass the abnormal gene to his or her child. However, not all family members who inherit an HCM mutation will develop disease and can remain only a carrier of the mutation. Men and women are equally likely to inherit HCM. However, even if a child is known to have the mutation, the severity of heart disease that will develop cannot be accurately predicted.
In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the muscular walls of the left ventricle become thickened (figure 2). As the left ventricular wall thickens, its ability to relax properly is impaired, causing blood flow into the ventricle to be reduced, like a weight lifter whose muscles may be strong, but stiff.
The mitral valve may also make an abnormal motion and contact the thickened septum during the ejection phase of blood out of the heart, which can cause obstruction of blood flowing out of the left ventricle. This can result in higher pressures than normal in the left ventricle, and the involvement of the mitral valve may also prevent the valve from closing completely and allow blood to leak backwards through the opening (known as mitral regurgitation). Other heart-related complications can also develop. (See 'Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy complications' below.)
HYPERTROPHIC CARDIOMYOPATHY SYMPTOMS
Most patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy have no or few symptoms. In some cases, symptoms are only seen with exercise or exertion. Symptoms may first appear during infancy or childhood, although they begin more commonly during puberty, when hypertrophy develops. In a smaller percentage of cases, symptoms may not occur until later in life. If symptoms develop, they may vary in severity from one day to another.
The age when symptoms develop, the severity of symptoms, and the long-term prognosis of a person with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy varies. With some mutations there is marked variation between families, but members of the same family are affected more similarly. Some mutations, however, may cause disease within a family that is severe in some people and mild or even absent in others. (See 'Prognosis' below.)
The most common symptoms include:
- Breathlessness (dyspnea) on exertion
- Breathlessness when lying down that is relieved when sitting or standing (orthopnea)
- Breathlessness at night that occurs suddenly, often waking the patient (nocturnal dyspnea)
- Chest pain, which may be caused or worsened by exertion
- Fainting (syncope) and near-fainting (presyncope)
- Palpitations, awareness of the heart beat
- Lightheadedness when sitting or standing up
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Swelling of the legs and feet (edema)
Patients with no or only minor symptoms generally have a better prognosis than those with more severe symptoms. However the severity of symptoms does not necessarily correlate with the extent of cardiac involvement or the risk of sudden death.
HYPERTROPHIC CARDIOMYOPATHY DIAGNOSIS
Testing for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may be performed because a person has a family history of the disease or because of a heart murmur, abnormal electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), or new symptoms. The best first test for HCM is an ECG. However, an echocardiogram is required to confirm the diagnosis. Other tests may also be recommended after the echocardiogram, depending upon the person's symptoms, family history, and echocardiographic findings.
Electrocardiography — An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is a recording of the electrical activity of the heart. It can help determine if there are abnormalities in electrical conduction or thickening or damage to the heart muscle.
Echocardiography — An echocardiogram uses ultrasound (high-frequency sound waves) to measure the thickness and motion of the ventricular walls, the size of the heart's chambers, the function of the heart valves (including the mitral valve), and flow of blood within the heart. Blood flow measurements help to diagnose any left ventricular outflow tract obstruction and can determine the magnitude of the extra pressure in the heart generated by obstruction.
Some patients may develop obstruction to blood flow only with exertion, and therefore echocardiography may also be performed during or immediately after exercise in order to detect this issue.
Echocardiography is usually performed during rest and may also be performed during or immediately after exercise.
Exercise testing — Exercise testing determines how the heart performs during activity. The response to exercise is measured by observing symptoms, the heart rhythm, blood pressure, and heart rate as the person walks on a treadmill. The blood pressure and heart rate normally increase during exercise. People with HCM whose blood pressure does not rise with exercise may be at increased risk for sudden cardiac death.
Exercise testing may be combined with echocardiography to determine whether left ventricular outflow obstruction develops or worsens during exercise.
Arrhythmia evaluation — Continuous portable (also called ambulatory) monitoring of the ECG can be helpful in identifying rhythm disorders (arrhythmias) in people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. One common type of ambulatory monitor is the Holter monitor. This is a small, lightweight, battery operated device that can record a person's ECG for 24 to 48 hours (figure 3). It is worn at home or at work during routine activities to detect rhythm disorders that may occur sometime during the course of the day.
Ambulatory monitoring may identify the cause of symptoms of an irregular heart rhythm, such as heart palpitations, passing out, or feeling lightheaded. Ambulatory monitoring is recommended for all people with HCM to identify abnormal heart rhythms, which may not cause symptoms. (See 'Arrhythmias' below.)
Arrhythmia evaluation is an important part of the assessment for risk of sudden cardiac death.
Other tests — Other tests may be recommended during an evaluation for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, including monitoring for irregular heart rhythms, imaging tests (such as MRI) of the heart, and cardiac catheterization. Testing of family members is recommended in certain situations.
Cardiovascular magnetic resonance — Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the heart (also known as cardiovascular magnetic resonance, CMR) can detect thickening of the left ventricular wall, including portions of the wall than can be difficult to assess by echocardiography. This test may also be helpful in detecting other abnormalities in people with HCM such as leaking of the mitral valve (mitral regurgitation) and scar in the ventricular walls.
Cardiac catheterization — Although echocardiography provides adequate information to assess cardiac function, obstruction and valvular regurgitation in most patients, cardiac catheterization may be indicated in certain patients. In addition, for some patients, cardiac catheterization may be performed prior to cardiac surgery to evaluate for coronary artery disease.
In this procedure, catheters (long tubes) are passed through the large blood vessels into the heart to measure pressures and obtain images of the left ventricular chamber. If there is concern that blood vessels of the heart could also be diseased (coronary artery disease), imaging of the coronary arteries (coronary angiography) may also be performed.
Evaluation of first-degree relatives — Because hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can be passed from parents to children, evaluation is recommended for all first degree relatives of anyone who is diagnosed with the disease. First degree relatives include siblings and parents.
The following are recommendations for evaluation:
- A medical history, physical examination, electrocardiography, and echocardiography.
- Evaluation is not recommended in children younger than 12 years unless the child has symptoms, has a high-risk family history, or the child is participating in intense competitive sports. Thickening of the heart wall often does not appear until adolescence.
- Evaluation should be repeated once per year from 12 to 18 years of age.
- Adults (>18 years) with a normal echocardiogram should have screening approximately every five years.
- Genetic testing for HCM is available, but it is expensive and the results do not always help to determine if and when a person will develop the disease.
HYPERTROPHIC CARDIOMYOPATHY COMPLICATIONS
Depending in part upon the severity of disease, some patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy develop the following complications:
- Heart failure (see "Patient information: Heart failure (Beyond the Basics)").
- Stroke (see "Patient information: Stroke symptoms and diagnosis (Beyond the Basics)")
- Rhythm disorder (arrhythmias)
- Heart block
- Infection of the heart valve (infective endocarditis)
- Increased risk of death due to sudden cardiac death, heart failure, or stroke
HCM and sudden cardiac death — Some people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy have an increased risk of developing a dangerous heart rhythm (arrhythmia), which can lead to sudden cardiac death (SCD). (See 'Arrhythmia evaluation' above.)
In individuals at high risk for sudden cardiac death, an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) is recommended to protect patients against sudden death by providing a life-saving shock to convert a patient back to a normal rhythm. ICDs can be associated with some side effects such as inappropriate shocks and low risk of infection. Also, patients cannot undergo an MRI of any part of the body with the device. (See 'Arrhythmias' below.)
HYPERTROPHIC CARDIOMYOPATHY TREATMENT
There is no cure for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. However, several treatments are available to relieve the symptoms and decrease the risks associated with HCM.
Treatment may be recommended to:
- Reduce the symptoms of heart failure and chest pain
- Remove excess muscle from the interventricular septum to improve blood flow and lower the pressures in the heart
- Treat abnormal heart rhythms and/or reduce the risk of sudden death
The optimal treatment depends upon the individual situation. Most people do not have symptoms and do not require any treatment.
Avoidance of dehydration — People with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy should try to maintain a steady fluid balance and avoid situations in which fluid is lost from the body and not adequately replaced (eg, having diarrhea and not drinking adequate fluids).
Activity restriction — Anyone with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy should talk to his/her healthcare provider about the safety of exercise. Most people with HCM are advised to avoid playing competitive sports, with the possible exception of some low-intensity sports (eg, golf, billiards). Certain recreational sports are also not advised. These recommendations generally apply to all people with HCM.
Shortness of breath and chest pain — One or more medications may be used to treat the symptoms of shortness of breath and/or chest pain. Options include a beta blocker, verapamil, and/or disopyramide. These medications work to decrease the heart's need for oxygen, improve the heart's ability to fill with blood, improve blood flow to the heart, and decrease the obstruction of blood flow out of the heart.
If these treatments do not adequately relieve symptoms and there is significant obstruction to the flow of blood out of the left ventricle (left ventricular outflow tract obstruction), a procedure to reduce the obstruction may be recommended.
Arrhythmias — People with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy are at risk for irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias). Although most arrhythmias do not cause symptoms, some can have serious consequences or even lead to sudden cardiac death. Therefore, testing for arrhythmias is important. (See 'Arrhythmia evaluation' above.)
There are two main types of arrhythmias: atrial and ventricular.
- Atrial arrhythmias – The most common atrial arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation (AF). Because AF may cause palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, low blood pressure, passing out and risk of stroke, treatment of AF is important. The treatment of AF is discussed separately. (See "Patient information: Atrial fibrillation (Beyond the Basics)".)
- Ventricular arrhythmias – There are several types of ventricular arrhythmias, including ventricular premature beats (VPBs), nonsustained ventricular tachycardia (NSVT), sustained ventricular tachycardia (VT), and ventricular fibrillation (VF).
- Ventricular premature beats, also known as premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) are not associated with increased risk of sudden cardiac death and do not usually require treatment.
- NSVT does not itself require treatment, although it is a marker for increased risk of sudden cardiac death.
- Sustained VT and VF are dangerous arrhythmias that can lead to sudden cardiac death (SCD). People with HCM who have experienced sustained VT or VF, or who are at risk of these rhythms, are advised to have an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to decrease their risk of sudden cardiac death. This therapy is discussed in detail in a separate topic. (See "Patient information: Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (Beyond the Basics)".)
Procedures to relieve left ventricular outflow tract obstruction — Patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy who are severely symptomatic and who do not improve with medications may be advised to consider septal ablation or surgical treatment, such as myectomy.
These procedures are most likely to be successful when performed in a medical center with significant experience in treating people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Assistance in findings such centers can be obtained online at websites for the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association (www.4HCM.org) and the Cardiomyopathy Association (www.cardiomyopathy.org).
Septal myectomy — Septal myectomy is the surgical removal of excess muscle from the thickened ventricular septum, the muscular wall between the left and right ventricles. The surgery is performed by opening the chest, placing the person on cardiopulmonary bypass (a heart lung machine), and removing excess tissue in the region of obstruction. Myectomy eliminates or improves symptoms in over 90 percent of patients with very low operative risk.
When myectomy is performed by an experienced surgeon, the complication rate is low (1 to 2 percent). The most common complication is development of heart block, which sometimes requires treatment with a pacemaker. (See "Patient information: Pacemakers (Beyond the Basics)".)
The mitral valve may be repaired at the time of myectomy if significant mitral regurgitation (leaking of the mitral valve) is present. (See "Patient information: Mitral regurgitation (Beyond the Basics)".)
Nonsurgical septal reduction therapy — Ethanol ablation of the septum, also known as nonsurgical septal reduction therapy (NSRT), or transcoronary ablation of septal hypertrophy (TASH) involves injecting ethanol (alcohol) into the blood vessel supplying the upper part of the thickened septum.
In this procedure, a cardiologist inserts an angioplasty catheter into an artery in the groin and threads it up to the base of the aorta (figure 1). The catheter is passed into the left coronary artery to the branch that supplies the upper part of the septum. A small amount of ethanol is injected into this arterial branch.
The ethanol causes a "controlled heart attack", resulting in death of muscle tissue supplied by the arterial branch. Over time this damage will result in the upper part of the septum becoming thinner, reducing obstruction of blood flow from the left ventricle (left ventricular outflow obstruction). The procedure is successful in reducing obstruction of blood flow in 80 percent of cases.
Ethanol ablation should only be performed by an experienced interventional cardiologist in a hospital that has experience caring for people with HCM. Complications are somewhat more common in people who undergo ablation compared to myectomy, with approximately 5 to 15 percent of people developing complete heart block requiring a pacemaker and 10 percent of patients who will not achieve successful reduction in the obstruction with the initial procedure.
Myectomy versus ethanol ablation — Although the outcomes with myectomy and ablation are similar, each procedure has its own advantages and disadvantages. Patients should discuss the risks and benefits of each procedure with their healthcare providers.
Pregnancy — Women with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy are generally able to become pregnant and carry the pregnancy without any difficulty. Before becoming pregnant, the woman should speak with her healthcare provider to discuss any potential risks, any medication changes that may be needed, and care during pregnancy.
Management of surgical procedures — Because people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy have alterations in the heart function, special care may be needed before, during and after surgical procedures to reduce the risk of complications such as heart failure or low blood pressure (hypotension).
The long-term outcome for people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is generally good, especially in those diagnosed later in life. The vast majority of patients with HCM have normal life expectancy without incurring any significant limiting symptoms or adverse disease complications.
However some patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy are at risk for severe cardiac complications, including heart failure and sudden death. The risk of cardiac complications varies among different families as well as among members within a given family. A major goal of the diagnosis and evaluation process is to identify those patients most likely to develop complications so that appropriate treatment can be provided.
WHERE TO GET MORE INFORMATION
Your healthcare provider is the best source of information for questions and concerns related to your medical problem.
This article will be updated as needed on our web site (www.uptodate.com/patients). Related topics for patients, as well as selected articles written for healthcare professionals, are also available. Some of the most relevant are listed below.
Patient level information — UpToDate offers two types of patient education materials.
The Basics — The Basics patient education pieces answer the four or five key questions a patient might have about a given condition. These articles are best for patients who want a general overview and who prefer short, easy-to-read materials.
Patient information: Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in adults (The Basics)
Patient information: Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in children (The Basics)
Patient information: Dilated cardiomyopathy (The Basics)
Patient information: Shortness of breath (dyspnea) (The Basics)
Patient information: ECG and stress test (The Basics)
Patient information: Echocardiogram (The Basics)
Patient information: Ventricular premature beats (The Basics)
Patient information: Friedreich ataxia (The Basics)
Beyond the Basics — Beyond the Basics patient education pieces are longer, more sophisticated, and more detailed. These articles are best for patients who want in-depth information and are comfortable with some medical jargon.
Patient information: Heart failure (Beyond the Basics)
Patient information: Stroke symptoms and diagnosis (Beyond the Basics)
Patient information: Atrial fibrillation (Beyond the Basics)
Patient information: Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (Beyond the Basics)
Patient information: Pacemakers (Beyond the Basics)
Patient information: Mitral regurgitation (Beyond the Basics)
Professional level information — Professional level articles are designed to keep doctors and other health professionals up-to-date on the latest medical findings. These articles are thorough, long, and complex, and they contain multiple references to the research on which they are based. Professional level articles are best for people who are comfortable with a lot of medical terminology and who want to read the same materials their doctors are reading.
Acquired heart disease and pregnancy
Atrial fibrillation in patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
Auscultation of cardiac murmurs
Definition and classification of the cardiomyopathies
Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and evaluation of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
Echocardiographic recognition of cardiomyopathies
Genetics of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
Hemodynamics of valvular disorders as measured by cardiac catheterization
Medical therapy in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
Natural history of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
Nonpharmacologic treatment of outflow obstruction in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
Overview of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy management including treatment of special problems
Risk of sudden cardiac death in athletes
Types and pathophysiology of obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
Ventricular arrhythmias and sudden cardiac arrest in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
The following organizations also provide reliable health information.
- National Library of Medicine
- Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association
- The Cardiomyopathy Association
- Fifer MA, Vlahakes GJ. Management of symptoms in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Circulation 2008; 117:429.
- Maron BJ, McKenna WJ, Danielson GK, et al. American College of Cardiology/European Society of Cardiology clinical expert consensus document on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. A report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation Task Force on Clinical Expert Consensus Documents and the European Society of Cardiology Committee for Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol 2003; 42:1687.
All topics are updated as new information becomes available. Our peer review process typically takes one to six weeks depending on the issue.