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Cardiomyopathy vs Heart Failure

Cardiomyopathy vs Heart Failure: Everything You Need To Know

Ensuring your heart’s health is of utmost importance, as it directly affects our overall well-being. Two conditions that often raise concern are cardiomyopathy and heart failure. Understanding the differences and similarities between these two conditions is crucial for early detection, effective management, and maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle.

In this article, we’ll explain in detail, cardiomyopathy vs heart failure, exploring their definitions, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. At Manhattan Medical Arts, we are committed to providing you with the knowledge and care needed to safeguard your heart health.

What is Cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is a heart muscle disorder that affects the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. It can be categorized into various types of cardiomyopathy, including dilated cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and restrictive cardiomyopathy. In each of these types of cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle becomes weakened, thickened, or stiffened; impairing its function.

What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a condition where the heart cannot pump blood efficiently enough to meet the body’s demands. It can result from various underlying causes, including cardiomyopathy.

Heart failure can be classified into two types: systolic heart failure i.e. when the heart can’t contract effectively – and diastolic heart failure i.e. when the heart can’t relax properly.

Cardiomyopathy vs Heart Failure

Cardiomyopathy vs heart failure – these are two distinct but interrelated conditions that often cause confusion. The Cardiomyopathy is primarily a structural heart disorder, whereas heart failure is a functional impairment of the heart’s pumping ability.

While cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure, not all heart failure cases are linked to cardiomyopathy. Understanding these differences is crucial for accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment plans, ensuring that patients receive the most effective care for their specific condition.

Common Causes

Cardiomyopathy vs heart failure – though distinct, but these conditions share several common causes and risk factors that can contribute to their development. Understanding these underlying factors is pivotal in managing and preventing these heart conditions effectively.

Cardiomyopathy Causes:

Genetic Factors: Inherited genetic mutations can predispose individuals to cardiomyopathy. These genetic abnormalities affect the structure and function of the heart muscle.

Infections: Certain infections, such as viral myocarditis, can lead to cardiomyopathy. These infections cause inflammation of the heart muscle, weakening it over time.

Alcohol and Substance Abuse: Excessive alcohol consumption or the use of illicit drugs can damage heart muscle cells, resulting in alcoholic cardiomyopathy or toxic cardiomyopathy.

Medications: Some medications, particularly those used in chemotherapy, can have cardiotoxic effects, potentially causing drug-induced cardiomyopathy.

Causes of Heart Failure:

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD): CAD is a major cause of heart failure. The narrowing or blockage of coronary arteries reduces blood flow to the heart muscle, which weakens it eventually.

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure): Prolonged high blood pressure forces the heart to work harder to pump blood, leading to left ventricular hypertrophy and eventual heart failure.

Heart Valve Disorders: Malfunctioning heart valves, such as aortic stenosis or mitral regurgitation, can disrupt the heart’s efficient pumping function and contribute to heart failure.

Cardiomyopathy: As mentioned earlier, cardiomyopathy itself can lead to heart failure, as the heart muscle becomes unable to pump blood effectively.

Diabetes: Uncontrolled diabetes can damage blood vessels and nerves, increasing the risk of heart failure.

Signs and Symptoms

Both of these heart muscle diseases share several common signs and symptoms, reflecting the compromised ability of the heart to pump blood efficiently. However, there are also some condition-specific indicators to be aware of.

Common Signs and Symptoms:

Fatigue: Both cardiomyopathy and heart failure can lead to persistent fatigue and weakness. As the heart struggles to meet the body’s oxygen demands, you may find even routine activities exhausting.

Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea): Breathlessness, especially during physical exertion or while lying flat, is a hallmark symptom of both conditions. This occurs because fluid buildup in the lungs makes it difficult to breathe.

Swelling (Edema): Fluid retention in the legs, ankles, feet (peripheral edema), or abdomen (ascites) is a common symptom. It results from impaired blood circulation and fluid buildup due to the heart’s inefficiency.

Irregular Heartbeat (Arrhythmias): Both heart muscle diseases can lead to irregular heart rhythms, causing palpitations, dizziness, and, in severe cases, fainting.

Specific Cardiomyopathy Symptoms:

Chest Pain (Angina): Dilated cardiomyopathy, in particular, can cause chest pain due to reduced blood flow to the heart muscle.

Fatigue After Activity: The most common cardiomyopathy symptom is that the individuals experience excessive tiredness after physical exertion, even if it’s minimal.

Specific Heart Failure Symptoms:

Sudden Weight Gain: Heart failure can lead to rapid weight gain due to fluid retention, often noticeable over just a few days.

Nocturia: Frequent urination during the night may occur as excess fluid from the body is processed by the kidneys when you lie down.

Cough with Pink or Blood-Tinged Sputum: Heart failure can cause a persistent cough with frothy or blood-tinged sputum, indicating fluid buildup in the lungs.

Reduced Appetite and Nausea: In advanced heart failure, reduced blood flow to the digestive organs can lead to loss of appetite and feelings of nausea.


Accurate diagnosis is the very base of effective treatment for both cardiomyopathy and heart failure. Healthcare providers use a combination of medical history, physical examination, and specialized tests to determine the presence and type of these heart muscle diseases.

Diagnosis of Cardiomyopathy:

Medical History and Physical Examination: Your doctor will begin by taking a detailed medical history, inquiring about your cardiomyopathy symptoms, risk factors, and family history of heart disease. During the physical examination, they will listen for abnormal heart sounds, check for fluid retention, and assess your overall cardiovascular health.

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): An ECG records the electrical activity of your heart and can reveal irregular heart rhythms, signs of hypertrophy (thickening) or other abnormalities.

Echocardiogram: This non-invasive imaging test uses ultrasound waves to create detailed images of your heart’s structure and function. It can identify chamber enlargement, wall thickness, and the ejection fraction (a measure of the heart’s pumping efficiency).

Cardiac MRI: In some cases, a cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be recommended to provide even more detailed images of the heart muscle and blood flow. This is particularly useful for diagnosing specific types of cardiomyopathy.

Blood Tests: Blood tests can help identify underlying cardiomyopathy causes, such as infections or genetic markers associated with cardiomyopathy.

Diagnosis of Heart Failure:

Medical History and Physical Examination: Similar to cardiomyopathy, your doctor will take a thorough medical history and perform a physical examination to assess heart failure symptoms, risk factors, and heart failure signs.

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): An ECG is often one of the initial tests to detect irregular heart rhythms or other electrical abnormalities.

Echocardiogram: Like in cardiomyopathy diagnosis, an echocardiogram is crucial for assessing heart structure and function in heart failure cases. It helps determine ejection fraction and any valve abnormalities.

Chest X-ray: A chest X-ray can reveal an enlarged heart and the presence of fluid buildup in the lungs, which are common indicators of heart failure.

Brain Natriuretic Peptide (BNP) Test: This blood test measures a hormone released by the heart in response to stress or fluid overload. Elevated BNP levels can suggest heart failure.

Cardiac Catheterization: In some cases, cardiac catheterization may be performed to directly visualize the coronary arteries and assess blood flow, helping to identify underlying causes of heart failure.

Treatment and Management

Effectively managing cardiomyopathy and heart failure involves a comprehensive approach tailored to the specific type and severity of the condition. Treatment strategies aim to alleviate symptoms, slow disease progression, and improve overall heart function.

Cardiomyopathy Treatment:

Lifestyle Modifications: Patients are often advised to make critical lifestyle changes, including reducing alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, and maintaining a heart-healthy diet with limited sodium intake. Regular exercise is encouraged, but the intensity and type of exercise should be determined in consultation with a healthcare provider.

Medications: Depending on the types of cardiomyopathy, medications may be prescribed to manage cardiomyopathy symptoms and improve heart function. These can include beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), and diuretics to control blood pressure and reduce fluid retention.

Implantable Devices: In some cases, individuals with certain types of cardiomyopathy may benefit from implantable devices such as pacemakers or implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) to help regulate heart rhythms and prevent sudden cardiac arrest.

Cardiac Rehabilitation: Cardiac rehabilitation programs can provide valuable support, including exercise training, nutritional guidance, and emotional counseling to help patients manage their condition and improve their quality of life.

Surgical Interventions: For severe cases or specific types of cardiomyopathy, surgical interventions like septal myectomy or heart transplant may be necessary to restore heart function.

Heart Failure Treatment:

Lifestyle Modifications: Managing heart failure typically begins with lifestyle changes, including a low-sodium diet, fluid restriction, and regular physical activity within individualized limits. Smoking cessation and alcohol moderation are essential.

Medications: A range of medications is used to treat heart failure, including diuretics to reduce fluid buildup, ACE inhibitors or ARBs to lower blood pressure, beta-blockers to improve heart function, and aldosterone antagonists to further reduce fluid retention.

Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy (CRT): CRT involves the implantation of a special pacemaker that coordinates the contractions of the heart’s left and right ventricles, improving its pumping efficiency.

Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (ICD): ICDs are recommended for patients at risk of life-threatening arrhythmias, providing a shock to restore normal rhythm when needed.

Ventricular Assist Devices (VADs): In advanced cases, VADs may be implanted to temporarily support heart function while awaiting a heart transplant.

Heart Transplant: When other heart failure treatments are no longer effective, a heart transplant may be considered, offering the potential for a new lease on life for those with severe heart failure.


In the battle for heart health, knowledge is your most powerful weapon. Understanding the distinctions between cardiomyopathy vs heart failure, recognizing their causes, symptoms, and risk factors, and knowing heart disease prevention can make all the difference.

At Manhattan Medical Arts, we are dedicated to your heart’s well-being – Our expert team is ready to provide the highest level of care and support, ensuring that you lead a heart-healthy life.

If you have any concerns about your heart health or need personalized guidance, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

– Disclaimer –
This blog is for informational & educational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute any professional medical advice or consultation. For any health related concerns, please consult with your physician, or call 911.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by Dr. Syra Hanif, M.D. on 10/02/2023

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  • About The Author

    Dr. Syra Hanif M.D.

    Board Certified Primary Care Physician

Dr. Syra Hanif is a board-certified Primary Care Physician (PCP) dedicated to providing compassionate, patient-centered healthcare.

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