Cardiomyopathy: How to Explain Your Child’s Heart Condition
You may (or may not) remember from geometry class that all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. It takes a little background explanation to figure that one out.
The same is true for cardiomyopathy. All cardiomyopathy patients have heart disease, but not all heart disease is cardiomyopathy. When your child has cardiomyopathy, learning how to explain the disease to your close friends and family can help you convey important milestones and other information about your child’s progress.
Although cardiomyopathy is more common in adults, kids can have it, too—regardless of gender or race.
Although cardiomyopathy is more rare in children than adults, according to the Children’s Cardiomyopathy Foundation, cardiomyopathy is the main reason for heart transplant in kids. But, in the pediatric heart transplant world, infants undergo transplant for cardiomyopathy less frequently than they do for congenital heart disease.
Cardiomyopathy can eventually lead to arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), heart valve conditions and heart failure. And when symptoms in young children lead to an early diagnosis, doctors take the case very seriously. Diagnosis at a young age can require aggressive treatment.
The 4 Types of Cardiomyopathy
There are 4 general types of cardiomyopathy, with each child’s heart condition falling under 1 of the 4 categories.
This rare form of cardiomyopathy happens in the right ventricle—specifically if tissue there dies and is replaced by scar tissue.
As the scar tissue replaces normal tissue, it interrupts signaling in the heart, and an irregular heart beat can develop, according to the American Heart Association.
What does happen is that the ventricle space becomes smaller, meaning the left and right ventricles can hold less blood. The ventricle walls stiffen, raising blood pressure and making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood through the body.
As a result, damaged heart muscle cells may misfire, leading to irregular heart beats. That makes exercise dangerous for some people, according to the American Heart Association.
This form of cardiomyopathy causes the heart’s main pumping chamber (the left ventricle) to stretch, according to the American Heart Association. It enlarges the left ventricle and eventually stretches the right ventricle as well, before moving to the upper chambers.
The ventricles become rigid as scar tissue replaces normal heart tissue, says the American Heart Association. This keeps the ventricles (lower chambers of the heart) from relaxing and filling with blood. As a result, the upper chambers (atria) expand.
That combination lessens blood flow within the heart, weakening the muscle and leading to arrhythmias.
This form of cardiomyopathy occurs when the left ventricle—the heart’s main pumping chamber—is spongy and has a mesh-like network of muscle bands known as trabeculations, the Cardiomyopathy Association explains. Doctors are still studying this condition to find out more about what causes it and how it can be treated.
Keep in mind: A cardiomyopathy diagnosis doesn’t mean you should panic. The disease has varying degrees of severity and doesn’t always lead to transplant. Mild forms can be managed with medicines alone, and only more severe cases may require pacemakers and defibrillators—with potential for heart transplant as a last resort.