Cardiomyopathy/Heart Failure: Overview

What is cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is a very rare form of heart disease, affecting one in every 100,000 children in the United States. If a child has cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle can’t pump blood normally – which can lead to heart failure.

There are several forms of cardiomyopathy:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most common form of cardiomyopathy in children. Children with dilated cardiomyopathy have enlarged chambers of the heart that can’t pump a normal amount of blood out of the heart. The heart is weakened because the muscle cells that make up the wall of the two lower chambers (ventricles) have stretched, enlarged and become weakened.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a condition of abnormally thickened heart muscle in one or more of the ventricles. Sometimes the wall of the heart can become so thick it blocks blood flow out of the heart. The muscle cells are also arranged in a disorganized manner, which leads to abnormal relaxation and abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Left ventricular non-compaction is a condition of abnormal organization of the heart muscle in which the heart muscle appears “spongy.” A heart with this condition can have difficulty squeezing, relaxing, or both. Abnormal heart rhythms are also common with this condition.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy prevents the muscle cells of the heart from relaxing, so they remain rigid, making it difficult for the heart to fill with blood returning from the body and lungs. Children with restrictive cardiomyopathy often develop high blood pressure in the arteries that deliver blood to the lungs and must be followed closely.
  • In arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, muscle cells degenerate and are replaced by fat cells. The right ventricle cannot pump blood normally and patients can suffer from abnormal heart rhythms.

Although all forms of cardiomyopathy can occur in children, restrictive and arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy are extremely rare, especially in children.

In all forms of cardiomyopathy, abnormal and sometimes lethal heart rhythms can occur.

Who gets cardiomyopathy?

There are a variety of causes and reasons a child might develop cardiomyopathy such as:

  • A viral infection
  • A child may be born with an abnormal heart structure that is not repaired in a timely fashion
  • Certain metabolic conditions, which are related to how the body creates and uses energy
  • Unrecognized, long-standing abnormal heart rhythms
  • Some medications
  • Some genetic conditions and conditions associated with syndromes
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Exposure to toxins, such as some types of chemotherapy for cancer

Some cardiomyopathies are familial, which means they may occur in the same family. But often, despite extensive evaluation, an underlying cause of cardiomyopathy cannot be identified.

Learn more about the Cardiomyopathy Program at Children's Hospital Colorado.