Can You Inherit Heart Failure?

What happens when the heart muscle changes? This condition, known as cardiomyopathy, can have serious consequences. Here’s what you need to know about it.


Cardiomyopathy causes your heart to go through structural changes, such as stretching or becoming rigid. Over time, this can result in heart failure because the heart simply cannot do its job anymore.

“Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart‘s function as a pump is inadequate to deliver oxygen-rich blood to the body,” said Harold Kim, M.D., Division Chief of Cardiology at Hackensack Meridian Health Mountainside Medical Center. “Over time, conditions, such as narrowed arteries in your heart (coronary artery disease) or high blood pressure (hypertension) gradually leaves your heart too weak or stiff to pump or fill with blood effectively.”

Cardiomyopathy can be passed down through inherited genes. When this happens, it often results in thickened heart muscles, known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

There are three other main types of cardiomyopathy, and each can be caused by different conditions — some known, others unknown.

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy is a condition in which the heart chambers become enlarged. This can be the result of any number of conditions.

  • When narrow arteries cause the heart muscles to thin, this is called ischemic cardiomyopathy.

  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy means the heart muscle grows stiff, possibly due to abnormal protein buildup or scarring.

“Cardiac catheterization is the gold standard for diagnosing coronary artery disease and is a valuable procedure to help diagnose heart failure,” Dr. Kim said. “During catheterization, the cardiologist is able to visualize whether the patient has cholesterol-laden arterial blockages or physical abnormalities and determine the best course of treatment: medical therapy, interventional therapy such as stenting or heart surgery.”

Head-to-Toe Symptoms

It’s important to diagnose cardiomyopathy in the early stages. While some people with the condition won’t have symptoms, others will experience any number of the following:

  • Swelling. Check your legs and feet for any signs of swelling.

  • Trouble breathing. If you find you can’t catch your breath when doing the simplest of tasks, see a doctor because it may involve your heart.

  • Excessive fatigue. Not having enough energy to maintain your current lifestyle could be an indication of a heart problem.

  • Quickened heartbeats. If you notice your heart beating faster on a regular basis, see a doctor.

  • Fluid buildup. If fluid builds up in your lungs or along your abdomen, this could be serious. Look for pink-tinted mucus when you cough. Check for unusual weight gain in the span of a few days.

If you notice unusual symptoms or have a history of heart disease or a family history of heart conditions like cardiomyopathy, talk with your physician.

“Physicians, nurses and staff at Mountainside Medical Center put patients first,” Dr. Kim said. “We have cardiologists who focus on each patient as an individual and use state-of-the-art technology for diagnosing and treating heart disease. Our relationship with renowned Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center gives patients access to the full spectrum of cardiovascular care.”

Heart-Healthy Recommendations

Many chronic conditions have similar risk factors to cardiomyopathy, such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Other risks include alcoholism and prior heart conditions.

Protect your heart by keeping your nutrition and physical activity in check. Maintain a healthy weight, and get enough sleep. Manage your sleep habits appropriately to get enough shuteye. Your body needs it to function properly.

If you’re experiencing stress, make preventive health decisions, such as eating healthy foods, working out your anxiety through exercise and drinking plenty of water. Engage in social activities to stay connected to others, and talk through emotional highs and lows.

By keeping your lifestyle habits in check, you can help prevent cardiomyopathy risk factors or better manage them if they do occur.

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