Nonischemic Cardiomyopathy: Definition, Symptoms & Causes

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition, Anatomy, Physiology, and Sports Nutrition courses and has a master's degree in Dietetics & Nutrition.

Non-ischemic cardiomyopathy refers to diseases of the heart that are not the result of reduced blood flow but rather caused by other factors such as viral infections. Learn about the definition, symptoms, and causes of non-ischemic cardiomyopathy.

Non-Ischemic Cardiomyopathy

Frank is a 54-year-old accountant who recently has felt very sick. For the past couple days, he has been very tired, has had difficulty breathing, and has noticed his feet and legs have become very swollen. Just in the past day, Frank has also been feeling pain and tightness in his chest. These symptoms made Frank very nervous, so he decided to go to his doctor to get checked out.

After running several tests on Frank, the doctor told Frank that he had suffered a heart attack caused by non-ischemic cardiomyopathy.

Oftentimes, heart disease is the result of reduced blood flow to the heart caused by blockages in blood vessels. This type of heart disease is referred to as ischemic cardiomyopathy. Ischemic is a term that means reduced blood flow.

However, sometimes heart disease is not caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. These types of heart disease are referred to as non-ischemic cardiomyopathy. Like ischemic cardiomyopathy, non-ischemic cardiomyopathy can cause damage to the tissues of the heart. This damage can decrease the function of the heart as well as potentially lead to serious, life-threatening complications such as heart failure.

Non-Ischemic Cardiomyopathy: Symptoms

The symptoms of non-ischemic cardiomyopathy include:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Edema and swelling, especially in the lower extremities
  • Rapid weight gain

A common symptom of non-ischemic cardiomyopathy is edema in the lower extremities.

As mentioned before, non-ischemic cardiomyopathy can potentially lead to decreased functioning of the heart and possibly even heart failure. Symptoms of heart failure include dizziness and fatigue, as well as pain and tightness in the chest, neck, and jaw.

Non-Ischemic Cardiomyopathy: Causes

There are several different causes of non-ischemic cardiomyopathy such as viral infections, severe reactions to various medications, genetics, and certain autoimmune disorders. Viral infections occur when viruses enter the body and multiply, causing infections of various tissues and organs in the body. Sometimes these viral infections can occur in the heart, potentially resulting in non-ischemic cardiomyopathy.

Non-ischemic cardiomyopathy can be caused by viruses infecting the tissues of the heart.

Although medications usually provide a therapeutic response in the body, sometimes medications can have side effects or cause negative reactions. These side effects or negative reactions to medications can potentially damage different parts of the body, including the heart. Additionally, taking too much of a medication can cause toxic levels of the medication to exist in the blood stream. Toxic levels of medications in the blood can cause damage to tissues in the body, particularly the heart, since all blood in the body flows through the heart.

Cancer medications and treatments can also cause non-ischemic cardiomyopathy. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other cancer treatments destroy not only cancer cells, but many other cells and tissues throughout the body. Sometimes these cancer therapies damage the cells and tissues of the heart, decreasing the heart's ability to function and pump blood throughout the body.

Another cause of non-ischemic cardiomyopathy is autoimmune disorders, such as lupus myocarditis. Autoimmune disorders are conditions in which the immune system starts attacking its own body, causing widespread inflammation. If this inflammation occurs in the heart, it can result in non-ischemic cardiomyopathy.

Sometimes, a person is born with a genetic condition that leads to non-ischemic cardiomyopathy. For example, a person's genes can cause them to have heart muscles that are thicker than usual, a condition referred to as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The thickening of the heart muscles can cause the chambers in the heart to become narrow which can block blood from flowing in and out of the heart. Additionally, the thickening of the heart muscles can cause the heart to become very stiff, decreasing its ability to pump blood throughout the body. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can also be caused by chronic high blood pressure.

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