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Nonischemic cardiomyopathy is damage to the heart muscle that is not associated with interruptions to the heart's blood supply, as seen in cases of coronary artery disease. In ischemic cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle is damaged as a result of oxygen deprivation caused by restricted bloodflow, while in nonischemic cases, the patient has another medical issue leading to injuries to the heart. Over time, the damage puts strain on the heart and exposes the patient to other complications, like heart failure.
One of the most common forms is a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, where the largest chamber in the heart becomes distended, causing the heart to pump less efficiently. The heart has to work harder to circulate the blood, putting significant strain on the muscle. The patient may struggle while exercising and when under stress, and can develop difficulty breathing and physical weakness because the heart is not working right.
Patients can also develop restrictive cardiomyopathy, where the walls of the heart stiffen and do not work as well, or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, involving a thickening of the heart walls. The fibrous, thickened tissue is less flexible and does not function as well as a healthy heart. Another condition, called arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia, is an inherited condition associated with damage to the right ventricle of the heart.
In a patient with nonischemic cardiomyopathy, the heart will have to work harder to function over time. The condition may be identified during a routine examination when a medical professional listens to the heart and takes note of any unusual symptoms a patient may be experiencing, and patients can also be diagnosed when they come in specifically complaining of heart problems. Medical imaging studies, along with electrocardiograms, can be used to collect information about the nature and extent of the damage.
A cardiologist is usually involved in the diagnosis and treatment of a patient with nonischemic cardiomyopathy. The condition is not reversible, but it may be possible to take medications, eliminate contributing factors like diet, or use a pacemaking device to regulate the heartbeat. Some patients may progress to the point where a transplant with a healthy heart is the only available treatment, especially since cardiomyopathies are often diagnosed late, when they are much harder to treat effectively. People can increase their chances of a successful treatment outcome with heart disease by seeking treatment as soon as they start to experience symptoms like labored breathing, changes in heart rate, or fatigue.