Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), or a thickened heart muscle, can affect young athletes.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a complex condition in which the heart muscle thickens and enlarges. HCM is surprisingly widespread, affecting an estimated one in every 500 Americans. While many people with HCM live normal, healthy lives, this disease is among the leading causes of sudden death in athletes under age 35.
There are two main types of HCM:
- Obstructive HCM – The most common type, obstructive HCM occurs when the wall between the lower two heart chambers thickens and, in some cases, the walls of the pumping chamber stiffen. This can limit or block blood flow from the left ventricle to the aorta—the body’s largest artery.
- Nonobstructive HM – This type occurs when the walls of the heart’s pumping chamber grow stiff. As a result, the amount of blood flow to and from the left ventricle is reduced (although not completely blocked).
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Causes
The most common cause of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a genetic abnormality that leads to a thickened heart muscle. There are several genes that may be passed from parent to child and cause HCM. Less often, HCM results from high blood pressure or the natural aging process.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Symptoms
It’s possible to have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and never experience any obvious symptoms. When symptoms do present, they may include:
- Chest pain and/or shortness of breath that may worsen with physical activity
- Abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Swelling in the abdomen, legs, ankles or feet
- Swollen veins in the neck
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
As a chronic heart disease, HCM and its symptoms typically worsen over time. It’s important to speak with a physician if you notice any of the above symptoms or if you are closely related to someone with HCM. Call 911 if chest pain, irregular heartbeat or shortness of breath persist for more than a few minutes.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Diagnosis
A test called an echocardiogram is most commonly used to identify hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and other structural abnormalities affecting the heart muscle. This type of ultrasound uses soundwaves to create live images of the heart and show how it is functioning.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Treatments
Tampa General Hospital provides world-class care for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and other heart diseases. Patients at TGH’s Heart & Vascular Institute have access to a full range of treatments, including:
- Medication to control symptoms
- Alcohol septal ablation to shrink thickened heart tissue without surgery
- Surgically implanted devices, such as an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), to improve heart function
- Open-heart surgery or heart transplantation to address severe cases of HCM