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JAMA Patient Page |

Cardiomyopathy FREE

Janet M. Torpy, MD, Writer; Cassio Lynm, MA, Illustrator; Richard M. Glass, MD, Editor
JAMA. 2004;292(23):2936. doi:10.1001/jama.292.23.2936.
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Published online

Cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the myocardium (heart muscle) does not work properly, can affect children and adults. Unlike heart disease due to heart attacks, where there is a problem with adequate blood flow to the heart, in cardiomyopathy the disease is in the heart muscle itself. The most common type of cardiomyopathy is dilated cardiomyopathy—the heart chambers gradually enlarge from ineffective heart muscle contraction. The end result of this is congestive heart failure—the heart cannot pump enough blood for the body's organs to function properly. The December 15, 2004, issue of JAMA includes an article about cardiomyopathy.


  • Shortness of breath

  • Fatigue

  • Chest pain

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Syncope (fainting) or lightheadedness

  • Decreased mental function

  • Swelling of the legs and feet or the abdomen


In addition to obtaining a complete medical history and performing a physical examination, your doctor may order other tests. Chest x-ray, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram (sound waves used to visualize heart structures and blood flow), and coronary angiography (injections into the coronary arteries to visualize them) are tests used to evaluate persons with congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy. In some cases, a biopsy (small sample) of the heart muscle may be needed.


Diet and lifestyle changes, including sodium restriction and regular exercise, are the first line of treatment for persons with cardiomyopathy. Several types of prescription medications may be used. Heart pacemakers and implantable defibrillators (devices to shock the heart out of an abnormal rhythm) may be necessary for persons with irregular heartbeat due to cardiomyopathy. In severe cases, heart transplantation may be considered for persons who have not responded to other treatments or whose heart function is severely diminished and is not expected to improve with maximal medical treatment.



To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. A Patient Page on heart failure was published in the February 6, 2002, issue; one on left ventricular hypertrophy was published in the November 17, 2004, issue; one on risk factors for heart disease was published in the August 20, 2003, issue; and one on hypertension was published in the February 27, 2002, issue.

Sources: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; American Heart Association; American College of Cardiology

The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. Any other print or online reproduction is subject to AMA approval. To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.




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The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
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