Diagnosing and Treating a Weak Heart Muscle

Cardiomyopathy is the medical term for a weak heart muscle. With this diagnosis, it is important to find out what is causing it to begin treatment immediately.

People with cardiomyopathy seek medical attention because they are having trouble breathing, retaining fluid, exercising, extremely fatigued and cannot lie flat easily. Doctors perform an echocardiogram to determine if the heart muscle is weak. If it is, they start tests to determine the cause.

“In this country, the No. 1 reason for cardiomyopathy is coronary artery disease,” says Duc T. Nguyen, DO, interventional cardiologist, Saint Francis Medical Partner. “When the blood vessels become blocked, that restricts blood flow to the heart, which can weaken it.”

Other causes for cardiomyopathy include:

  • Valvular heart disease – When the mitral or aortic valve is tight or leaky, that forces the heart to work much harder.
  • Chemotherapy – Cancer treatments can weaken the heart muscle.
  • Uncontrolled blood pressure – Bad blood pressure forces the heart to work harder.

Treatment depends on the cause of the problem. With coronary artery disease, the patient will need either a stent or coronary bypass surgery to open up the artery. If it’s the valve, the patient will need a valve repair or replacement.

“All patients undergo intensive medical therapy when first diagnosed,” says Nguyen. “There are certain medications they will need to take for at least several years, and possibly their entire life.”

Nguyen recommends patients with cardiomyopathy undergo cardiac rehabilitation at the Saint Francis Medical Center Heart Hospital, where they also learn about nutrition and heart-healthy lifestyle changes they should make.

“Cardiac rehabilitation has been proven to extend the life of people with cardiomyopathy,” says Nguyen. “Since medical professionals monitor the patients while they exercise, we can detect and address any problems quickly.”

To make an appointment with Nguyen, call 573-331-3000.